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^ ^ ^ Oh o >**» d O SS 


15th 

Anniversary 

Issue 


V. 15, No. 1 
December 1973 


Copyright 1973 by Thomas D. and Alice S. Clareson 


Board of Editors 


Brian Aldlss 
J. 0, Bailey 
I. F. Clarke 
Alex Elsensteln 
Patrick G. Hogan, Jr. 
Julius Kagarlltskl 


Richard D. Mullen 
Franz Rottenstelner 
Leland Saplro 
Lionel Stevenson 
Richard C. West 
Jack Williamson 


Extrapolation , the Journal of the MLA Seminar on Science Fiction, 
also serving the Science Fiction Research Association, Is Issued 
twice yearly (December and May) In the English Department of the 
College of Wooster and Is published by the Collier Printing Com- 
pany. Volumes coincide with the academic year. Backflles may be 
obtained from Johnson Reprint Corporation, 111 Fifth Avenue, New 
York 10003. All correspondence should be addressed to the editor: 
Thomas D. Clareson, Box 3186, The College of Wooster, Wooster, 
Ohio 44691. 

Subscriptions: 


One year $3.00 Three years $7.50 Single Issue $1.75 


Contributors 


Robert Galbreath Is a member of the staff of the Institute for 
Twentieth Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin — 
Milwaukee. He has published widely on the Occult and will 
serve as local chairman for the 1974 SFRA meeting. He Is 
an advisory editor of the Journal of Popular Culture . 

H.W. Hall, Technical Librarian at Texas A&M, Is a member of the 
SFRA Executive Committee and serves as General Editor of the 
SFRA Miscellaneous Publications Series. Since 1970 he has 
Issued the annual Science Fiction Book Review Index . 

Elaine L. Kleiner Is a member of the English Department at Indiana 
State University, Terre Haute, She Is Managing Editor of 
Studies In Science Fiction . 

Michael W. McCllntock Is a member of the English Department of 
the University of Montana. He offers a course In science 
fiction and Is a member of SFRA. 

Rebecca M. Pauly Is a Professor of French. Her Interest In science 
fiction centers on the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

Ronald Munson, a member of the Hillosophy Department at the Uni- 
versity of Mlssourl-St. Louis, has as his specialty the 
philosophy of science, particularly biology. He serves as 
consultant for a number of publications In that area. 

Gerard O'Connor, Professor of Language and Literature at Lowell 

Institute of Technology, works widely In Che field of Popular 
Culture, His paper on Tolkien was presented at the 1971 
national meeting of FCA. 

Joanna Russ, a member of the English Department at Harpur College, 
Is also a distinguished novelist. Her recent short story 
"When It Changed," received the Nebula Award for 1972. 

David Samuelson, a member of the English Department at California 
State University-Long Beach, also serves as a member of the 
SFRA Executive Conmlttee. He Is now compiling a checklist 
of European criticism of science fiction. 

Carl B. Yoke Is a member of the English Department at Kent State 
University. He Is currently offering a course In science 
fiction at the Stark campus of KSU. 


December 1973 


V. 15, No. 1 


Extrapolation: 

A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 
In This Issue 

The Launching Pad: Fifteenth Anniversary 2 

Zelazny's Damnation Alley : Hell Noh 6 

Carl B. Yoke 

Some Preliminaries to the Criticism of Science Fiction 17 

Michael W. McClintock 

Joseph Conrad's Forgotten Role in the Emergence of 

Science Fiction 25 

Elaine L. Kleiner 

SF: The Literature of Possibility 35 

Ronald Munson 

The Bibliographic Control of Science Fiction 42 

H. W. Hall 

Speculations: The Subjunctivity of Science Fiction 51 

Joanna Russ 

Reviews and Brief Mention: The Occult in 19th Century 

American Fiction 60 

Robert Galbreath 

The Moral Stance of Kurt Vonnegut 66 

Rebecca M. Pauly 

The Many Ways to Read an 'Old' Book 72 

Gerard O'Connor 

New Wave, Old Ocean: A Comparative Study of Novels 

by Brunner and Delany 75 


David Samuel son 


The Launching Pad: 


Fifteenth Anniversary 


Probably no one attending the first MIA Seminar on Science 
Fiction in 1958 foresaw that it would still be meeting in 1973. 

Nor, a year later, when the first issue of Extrapolation was dis- 
tributed free to anyone who wished a copy, would anyone have pre- 
dicted that in fifteen years it would circulate in twenty-nine 
countries to more than a thousand subscribers. Within the past 
three years its circulation has nearly tripled, and its growth-rate 
continues at a highly satisfactory rate. Jack Williamson’s latest 
count suggests that almost four hundred courses are now being 
offered at the college and university levels, while no one can 
accurately estimate the number of courses at the hi^ school level. 
Many regional meetings of MLA hold seminars, as does the Popular 
Culture Association, and, of course, there are such special affairs 
as the Clarion Workshop and the annual meeting of the Science Fic- 
tion Research Association. 

Many factors — some of them completely unpredictable in 1958-- 
have contributed to the burgeoning interest in the field, as has 
the work of many individuals, both inside and outside the academic 
community, in the States, Canada, and abroad. Perhaps the best 
measure of the current impact of the field occurred at the recent 
MMLA meeting at Chicago when the keynote speaker directed the As- 
sociation’s attention to the potential of science fiction as a 
significant part of contemporary fiction. 

Although many papers derived from the MLA Seminars have seen 
publication in Extrapolation , there has never been a listing--for 
the record, at least--of the topics and chairmen of those meetings. 
This anniversary seems an appropriate occasion to do so. 

1958 "The Significance of Science Fiction," Thomas D. Clareson, 

The College of Wooster. 

1959 "The Future of Science Fiction," J. 0, Bailey, University of 
North Carolina. 

1960 "Evaluating Science Fiction by Critical Standards," Samuel 
Sackett, Ft, Hays Kansas State College. 

1961 "Science Fiction: An Index to the Human Situation in the 
Space Age," Mark R. Hillegas, Southern Illinois University-- 
Carbondale . 


2 


1962 "Science Fiction: Current Problems," Arthur 0, Lewis, Jr., 
Pennsylvania State University. 

1963 "Science Fiction versus Science in Fiction," Scott C. Osborn, 
Mississippi State University. 

1964 "Science Fiction as an Index to Popular Attitudes Toward 
Science," Thomas D. Clareson, The College of Wooster. 

1965 "Science Fiction: Time Travel," H. Bruce Franklin, Stanford 
University. 

1966 "Science Fiction: The Fiction of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. 
Tolkien," Mark R. Hillegas, Southern Illinois University-- 
Carbondale, (From this meeting came the volume of essays. 
Shadows of Imagination , edited by Hillegas.) 

1967 "Science Fiction: Voices Prophesying War . " Thomas D. Clare- 
son, The College of Wooster. (Professor I. F, Clarke of the 
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, author of Voices . was the 
speaker at this meeting.) 

1968 "Science Fiction: Samuel R. Delany: New Directions in Science 
Fiction," Thomas D. Clareson, The College of Wooster. (Delany 
was the speaker; his widely-circulated paper, "About Five 
Thousand One Hundred and Seventy-Five Words" was derived 

from the meeting.) 

1969 "Science Fiction: Brunner *s Stand on Zanzibar and the Nature 
of the Science Fiction Novel," Richard D. Mullen, Indiana 
State University. (Brunner was the speaker, 

1970 "Science Fiction and the Uses of Myth," Patrick G, Hogan, Jr., 
University of Houston. 

1971 "Science Fiction: Teaching Science Fiction and Science Fic- 
tion Films," Thomas D, Clareson, The College of Wooster. 

1972 "Science Fiction: The Works of Mervyn Peake," Glenn Sadler, 
Westmont College. 

This year's Seminar will meet on Friday, December 28, at the 
Palmer House in Chicago from 8:45 to 10:30 a.m. The topic is "The 
Shaping of Science Fiction by the American Magazines." Professor 
Philip Klass, English Department, Penn State University, is chair- 
man, For reservations write to him at University Park, Pa. 16802. 

Two meetings held earlier this year should be mentioned at 
least. On April 19, at William Rainey Harper College, the Chicago 
Area CEA sponsored "Science Fiction Colloquy-73," featuring such 
speakers as George Price, Leon Stover, A. D. Stewart, and Beverly 
Friend. Professor Betty Beery served as chairman for what has 
been described as the largest academically-sponsored meeting to be 
held in the Chicago area. Equally successful was the workshop on 


3 


teaching science fiction, sponsored by NOTE and chaired by Beverly 
Friend, at Kalamazoo College in August. 

The winter seems quiet, but the spring will see two important 
meetings, both held, by chance, at the University of Wisconsin- 
Milwaukee. The first of these is the national PCA meeting from May 
2 through 6, A general session on sf will be chaired by Professor 
Thomas Wymer of Bowling Green State University, while Professor 
Wayne Losano of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute will chair a ses- 
sion on sf films. The annual meeting of the Science Fiction Re- 
search Association will be held there in late June, with Professor 
Robert Galbreath in charge of arrangements. Persons interested in 
presenting papers at SFRA should write directly to him, in care of 
the Institute for Twentieth Century Studies. 


SFRA 

’’The Writer and Science Fiction" provided the central theme of 
the annual SFRA meeting held this year at Pennsylvania State Uni- 
versity from September 14 through 17. The co-chairmen. Professor 
Philip Klass and Dean Arthur 0. Lewis, Jr., deserve high praise, 
as do the staff of the Institute for the Study of the Humanities 
and the students of the Penn State Science Fiction Society. Some 
one hundred eighty persons, primarily from the East coast, although 
a few came from as far away as Montana and California, attended the 
parallel sessions: one line devoted to the historical development 
of sf; the other to teaching and criticism. Although a number of 
writers are members of SFRA and many have participated in previous 
meetings, the presence of the writers on this occasion seemed to 
provide a special flavor that the annual meeting had not previously 
known. What emerged of most importance, perhaps, was a sense of 
rapport between the writers and the academic community to a greater 
degree than had previously existed. This new sense of cooperation 
can perhaps be best measured by the inclusion of a new section de- 
voted to academic criticism, "Dictics," under the editorship of 
Professor Bruce McAllister of California State University at Fuller- 
ton, in the SFWA Bulletin . 

Incidentally, Jerry Pournelle, the new president of SFWA, said 
that he hopes more teachers and students will subscribe to the 
Bulletin . Anyone interested may write to him (12051 Laurel Terrace, 
Studio City, Ca . 91604) or Professor McAllister. 

The 1973 Pilgrim Award went to Jack Williamson in recognition 
of the contribution he has made to the field throughout his career 
as a writer, scholar, and teacher. 

At the business meeting, the following persons were elected 
to the Executive Committee, to serve terms from 1 January 1974 to 
1 January 1977: 


4 


Thomas D. Clareson, The College of Wooster, Chairman; 

James Gunn, University of Kansas; 

Leslie Kay Swigart, the Library, California State University 
at Long Beach. 

Of perhaps most immediate importance, as of 1974, annual dues 
for individuals and appropriate organizations will be $15, This 
was done by excluding the registration fee for the annual con- 
ference from the dues; the consensus suggested that only those 
who actually attend the annual meeting should pay that fee. Stu- 
dent dues — allowed for a period of five years--were fixed at $10.; 
'family* membership, at $20. The distinction between voting and 
supporting memberships was also done away with. 

Several matters of importance will be on the agenda of the 
Executive Committee at a meeting scheduled during MLA. this Christ- 
mas. These include such matters as the drawing up of formal by- 
laws for the Association. Questionnaires to form the basis of a 
membership directory were mailed in mid-November; as soon as they 
are returned, the much-needed booklet will be prepared. Several 
other publications are being planned, but of them in May. 

Incidentally, those who wish a copy of The Shaw Review de- 
voted to science fiction (published last spring) should write to 
Professor Stanley Weintraub, The Institute for Humanistic Studies, 
Ihlseng Cottage, Penn State University, University Park, Pa, 168 02. 


T.D.C. 


5 



Zelazny’s Damnation Alley: 


Hell Noh 


Carl B. Yoke 

When I first read Roger Zelazny’s novel Damnation Alley , I was 
struck immediately by the stylized Noh play which appears in it.*^ 

I knew of his interest in Eastern philosophy and drama, but this 
brief passage seemed peculiarly out of place in what the author him- 
self described as "primarily a bang-bang odyssey,"^ 

I knew that the novel had been expanded from a shorter story, 
which appeared originally in Galaxy Magazine and which did not in- 
clude the Noh play; so, my curiosity piqued, I asked him why he had 
chosen this vehicle, rather than some other, to develop the char- 
acter of Hell Tanner. He wrote; 

After it [the original story] was finished, sold, and 
published, I did wish that I had done just a little more 
with what went on inside him. So, vhen I had the op- 
portunity to expand the thing into a book, I decided that 
besides additional external action I would figure some 
way to get into Hell and show what was going on there. 

Stream of consciousness, in this case, would not be too 
useful. He did not understand his own motivation, and 
it would not be likely to emerge in any interior mono- 
logue. A wild dream sequence, though, could be made to 
serve this end, \dien I had the perfectly legitimate 
excuse of delirium-ridden sleep. So I employed my al- 
ternative and ritualized his inchoate feelings of sym- 
pathy toward the dead driver, Brady. . . The Noh form 
was the first thing that came to mind then. . , It was 
not intended as a parody of the form. I was looking 
for lumber, and getting some more mileage out of my back- 
ground in dramatic literature, it struck me as easier to 
buy it pre-cut than to start chopping down my own trees 
and shaping them. Also, I somewhat subscribe to the 
notion of a resonance-effect in literature* I think 
that if someone has had even a brief exposure to a 
particular medium, something that later mimes it will 
strike a chord of familiarity, even if he does not know 
why, even if, say, his only exposure to Noh was forgotten 
background sequences in Sayonara ^ A sense of familiarity 
is always a good thing to stir in a reader, as I see it, 
perhaps especially when he doesn’t know why. It makes a 
thing seem somehow more important if it nags him a bit.^ 


6 


With these ideas in mind, I re-read the novel to determine the 
effectiveness of Zelazny's Noh and to assess its specific contri- 
butions toward the total development of the work. I concluded that 
the Noh brilliantly and succinctly unifies the novel. In particular, 
it focuses and deepens the characterization of Hell Tanner, while 
providing a buoy to mark his transition from a specific form of 
humanness to humanity. In addition, it expands and supports the 
novel's main theme--the interdependence of mankind. 

The play's effectiveness, however, rests in the author's ability 
to adapt Noh conventions to the ends of his work. It is therefore 
necessary to examine his modifications in order to understand why 
his micro-Noh functions so well. 

Zelazny briefly touches on a few of the required adaptations in 
the following paragraphs; 

Take, say, this description of the Noh setting from The 
Oxford Companion to the Theater section on "Japan" and 
consider it for a moment. 

There is no scenery; on the back wall of the rear stage 
is painted a stylized pine- tree, and along the bridge 
railing are three small pine-trees or branches. [l 
used the grove and had the narrator mention the 
crossing of bridges.] The properties are equally 
exiguous, a frame two feet square from which spring 
four lamp posts to support a roof representing a 
house, a temple, or a palace, as the play may require. 

[in my case, the car.] The First Actor, especially 
in the second part where he performs the dance which 
is the kernel of the play, wears a mask. [And the 
miming of the driving is the dance. ]^ 

These are rather self-explanatory. Two of the most significant, 
however, are not commented upon: his use of role and his complete 
re-orientation of the religious philosophy in the play. 

In his stylized Noh, Zelazny casts three players. Brady, the 
now-dead Boston driver, who first ran the "Alley" to bring news of 
the plague to Los Angeles, plays the shite . This role is tradi- 
tionally that of the protagonist and often that of a ghost. Father 
Dearth, an itinerant priest on a pilgrimage to Boston, plays the 
waki . The waki traditionally represents the audience and asks the 
questions that it would ask if it could. Tanner, himself, plays a 
tsure . or companion, who is in this case attached to the shite . The 
tsure . as described by Donald Keene, "is usually no more than a 
shadow."^ 

Unlike Western Drama, where the roles are identified by the 
name of the character and where there is an all-out effort to make 
each one unique, the Noh roles are identified by category.^ And, 
thou^ in the later plays the distinction between shite . waki , and 
tsure seem arbitrary, this is not true of the plays of the great 


7 


period, (that is, those plays from the first half of the fifteenth 
century).' Working with the traditional functions of role in mind, 
Zelazny adapts them to fit the artistic ends of Damnation Alley . It 
is in these modifications that his skill is most apparent. 

The role played by Brady's ghost, for example, is fundamentally 
the same as that of the traditional shite . He has died before the 
play begins. He possesses almost no individual qualities. (Zelazny 
has purposefully told us very little about Brady so that he can 
focus our attention on Brady's alter ego. Hell Tanner.) He repre- 
sents the embodiment of a powerful emotion. And, like many of the 
traditional shites . it is the sin of attachment which welds him to 
earthly concerns and prevents him from finding rest in the spirit 
world.® 

In this case, the specific motivation is the ghost's concern 
that his mission to save Boston from bubonic plague will, in fact, 
be successfully completed. However, the ghost also seeks meaning 
for his death and salvation for his soul at a more general level. 

It is these interests which generate his unrest and which provide 
the emotional motivation for his anxiety. Like the conventional 
shite , he is looking for "a promise of deliverance from the tortures 
he is suffering when he first appears."^ 

Zelazny makes two important modifications of the role, however, 
which are critical to the development of the novel. First, he casts 
Brady as the only man to have run "the Alley". Second, he has Brady 
sacrifice himself for the good of humanity. These characteristics 
provide the means for Tanner’s eventual change of personality. As 
a driver himself. Hell naturally admires Brady's achievement. He 
identifies with him and is in competition with him. In order to 
best him. Hell must not only run "the Alley" successfully, he must 
also live to bask in the limeli^t. In short, Brady becomes a model 
for Tanner to emulate. 

In addition to modifying the shite's role, Zelazny has also 
written important changes into the role of the waki . In the tradi- 
tional plays, the waki is often cast as a priest on a pilgrimage to 
some holy place. In his delineation of Dearth, Zelazny has main- 
tained that convention. Where he does make a change, however, is 
in making the priest Catholic rather than Buddhist. This is a 
necessary modification for many reasons. It permits the reader to 
identify with a familiar religious context. It harmonizes with the 
basic imagery of the book, which relies heavily upon Revelation for 
its metaphoric sub-structure. And it allows the creation of a con- 
fessor -to -penitent relationship between Dearth and Brady. This, in 
turn, permits Dearth to take a more active part in the play and 
raises him to a symbol of authority. It thus changes the traditional 
relationship, \diere the shite is unquestionably the dominant figure. 

It also allows Zelazny to utilize the understood relationship 
between any Catholic priest and God to create a sense of absolute- 
ness in Dearthfe actions, to extend the Christian horizons of the 
novel, and to impress the reader with a higher sense of things. 

These are necessary conditions to persuade the reader that Tanner’s 

8 


character has, in fact, been raised from its specific level of 
humanness to a general concern for humanity. 

Thus, when, near the end of the play. Dearth prays for Brady 
and then grants rest to his tormented ghost, the acts achieve 
credibility because of their Christian context. Moreover, the 
acts not only guarantee Brady salvation but Tanner as well because 
of the direct link between the two. And since the ghost can only 
rest if the mission is successfully completed, the acts foreshadow 
Hel 1 * s eventual success . 

Yet rest and salvation are not granted without concession. In 
Brady's case, it amounts to his naming himself. Naming is, of 
course, an integral part of Noh convention. Waley writes, for 
example, that following the jidai , or opening couplet, "come the 
hard outlines of the waki * s exposition, the formal naming of himself 
his origin and destination. Zelazny, however, uses naming for a 
different purpose, and does, in fact, focus his entire play on Brady ^ 
naming himself. 

To emphasize it, he uses three devices. First, he makes Brady 
exceedingly humble and thus reluctant to identify himself. He then 
makes Dearth equally insistent that the dead driver name himself. 
Finally, he makes the actual saying of the word "Brady" part of the 
foreshadowing- of -success process. After the word is completed, 
Zelazny writes, "Then the mask and the bandage drop to the ground, 
and the gray garment collapses upon them, as day faintly begins in 

the east. "12 

In creating a test of wills between Dearth and Brady's ghost, 
Zelazny has accomplished two objectives. First, he has reinforced 
the prominence of Dearth's role by humanizing him, thus adding to 
his psychological credibility. Second, he has made his play more 
dramatic and, therefore, more acceptable to Western readers. 

The problem of understanding and apprecating the Noh form in 
the Occidental world is a critical one. In discussing it, Donald 
Keene states that he feels the difficulty lies in the Western view- 
er’s attitude toward conflict in drama. Occidentals, he points out, 
have been conditioned to look for conflict as the nucleus of the 
play. Noh, on the other hand, has no real conflict because it has 
only one true personage, the shite . All other players simply func- 
tion as observers of the action. 


The problem for Zelazny was to make the form intelligible and 
impactive. He does this by placing it in a familiar frame of ref- 
erence for his readers. The test of wills, as noted, also strength- 
ens Dearth's credibility, vdiich is imperative if the Priest *s 
actions are to be convincing. This would be impossible, of course, 
if he were not raised to the level of participant. 


The tsure . or companion, is described by Waley as an adjunct 
to either the shite or waki .^^ Although Tanner may be considered 
as a tsure to the shite by virtue of his link with Brady, as the 
role is written, he supersedes the traditional limits of the tsure 

9 


by far. Though he does not speak or act in the play, he is its 
dreamer. Thus, its form, characters, and other elements are the 
product of his unconscious mind. That the dream takes the Noh form 
is important. Since Zelazny's explicit objective was to illustrate 
a change in Tanner's personality“-that is, "to raise his actions 
from the specific to the general. . . and him from his form of 
humanness to humanity"^^-'he needed a means which would accomplish 
this task efficiently. The Noh provided the perfect vehicle. Not 
only is it succinct, its purpose is "to move profoundly and ulti- 
mately, to transcend the particular and touch the very springs of 
human emotion s."^^ Moreover, it is marked "with absoluteness . "17 

By linking Tanner with the Noh, Zelazny creates the impression 
that Tanner has transcended self and is reaching for the absolute. 
Only this transition, and ultimately an overview of his mission, can 
give meaning to what Tanner has experienced in crossing "the Alley." 
It is the shock of his accumulated perceptions which moves him to a 
higher understanding. This transition of personality is supported 
by the actions and imagery of the play. Tanner's capacity to em- 
pathize with Brady and his acceptance of the humanitarian precepts 
of Catholicism, represented by Dearth, are responses \diich he was 
unable to make when he left Los Angeles at the beginning of his 
mission. 

In modifying the traditional roles of shite , waki and tsure , 
Zelazny has worked brilliantly within the parameters he has estab- 
lished in the general metaphor of the novel. Each change he made 
was dictated by and organically related to the ultimate statement 
of the work. 

As has been indicated earlier, the characters of Noh differ 
significantly from those of Western drama, as dictated by the 
ritualization of the form itself. Whereas Western authors strive 
to create unique characters which are heavily motivated psycho- 
logically, those of the Noh writers are "hardly more than beautiful 
shadows, the momentary embodiment of great emotions, Because 
the Noh reaches toward the absolute and strives to transcend the 
particular, its characters tend toward the ideal. Distinctions in 
any particular role come almost entirely through the actor's inter- 
pretation of the part rather than through the writer's characteri- 
zation. However, the actor is aided in his attempt to extend the 
emotion represented toward the ideal by the use of mask and costume. 

As with the other elements of the Noh, the masks, too, have 
been ritualized. Not only are they divided into categories, there 
are appropriate masks for each specific role. Theoretically, as 
the actor's skill grows, he moves into increasingly demanding parts 
which allow him to wear more and more beautiful masks, Each mask 
is considered to have a level of dignity, called kura i , which corre- 
sponds directly with the rank of the role. It is the kurai of the 
part that the actor attempts to project to the audience. His task 
is to make his viewers believe that the mask "is part of his flesh"^^ 
and an extension of the emotion represented by the character he is 
portraying. 


10 


Zelazny presents only one masked character in his play, Brady. 
Masking the shite is, of course, Noh convention, and in Zelazny's 
play it accomplishes multiple purposes. Besides identifying Brady 
as the shite and placing the play in the Noh framework, the mask 
also helps to define the emotion that the character of Brady repre- 
sents, focuses the reader's attention on a concrete symbol of that 
emotion, and helps to extend the role of Brady toward the ideal. 

Brady's mask is described as "red. . .with concentric circles 
about the eye-holes, a thin line for a mouth, sunken cheeks, and 
three dark V's in the center of the forehead. "21 Its most important 
characteristic is, of course, its color. As is typical of his work, 
Zelazny suggests multiple meanings for the mask simultaneously. Red 
suggests Mars, the God of War, and reminds us that not only Hell's 
experiences but the "Alley" itself are products of the ultimate war. 
It also calls to mind the promise of Revelation , that the world 
will be destroyed next time by fire. This is appropriate since the 
novelb basic imagery is drawn from that text. Zelazny may also have 
wished to make a veiled allusion to Poe's "Mask of the Red Death," 
This reference would also work in the novel since Boston is figura- 
tively being stalked by the plague. 

On the surface, however, it is obvious that he wished to 
dramatize Brady's suffering and concern. The circles about the 
eyes, the thin -line for a mouth, the sunken cheeks, and the worry- 
lines on the forehead vividly illustrate his emotion. His specific 
concerns are the success of the mission, his feeling of unfulfillment, 
and his need for salvation. 

His concerns are also Tanner's concerns, and more generally, 
the concerns of man himself, for the mission is not solely for the 
benefit of either driver. The mask is therefore more than a simple 
extension of the role. It is rather a symbol of man's ignorance, 
his inhumanity, and his capability for destruction. When the mask 
is finally removed, Zelazny is not only indicating that Brady and 
Tanner have been saved but civilization, too. He reinforces this 
first positive note with the line, "A cock is crowing, and a white- 
ness begins in the sky. "22 Like the mask carvers of the Noh, 

Zelazny has shaped Brady's mask to symbolize the essential traits 
of the role.^^ 

Costume serves the Noh in much the same way as mask. It, too, 
extends the emotion represented by the character toward the ideal. 
Traditionally, each role has special robes of particular design. In 
Zelazny's micro-Noh, however, we are given very few details of the 
characters' garments except for their colors. 

Color is of such importance to the Noh theater that through the 
years a hierarchy of values has been established to correlate with 
the kurai of the role. White, red, light blue, ultramarine, light 
green, russet, yellow-brown, and brown, 2^ White bears the most 
dignity, while light green is reserved for menials and brown for 
old people. 


11 


Keene shows how color is used in costumes in his discussion of 
the color red; traditionally, red means youth, high spirits, and 
good fortune. And normally female roles are referred to as those 
with and those without color; that is, whether or not the costume 
has red in it. The amount of red suggests how beautiful the woman 
is. 26 One notable exception, however, is found in the shite of 
Sotoba Komachi, vdio is a woman over a hundred years old. She com- 
monly wears a touch of red in her cloak or sash to suggest that 
’’some thing of the beautiful woman lingers about her, "27 So, the use 
of color as a symbol is a well-established Noh tradition. In his 
use of it in the costumes of his players, however, Zelazny has sought 
the traditions of the West rather than those of the Noh. The red of 
Brady’s mask, for example, is certainly not used to suggest feminity 
or youth. 

Gray, the color of Brady’s garment, has no traditional meaning, 
nor is it a reflection on Brady’s dignity. In other words, it is 
not meant to be a compromise of white; rather, it reflects the 
ghost’s state of existence, his ethereal condition. It also sym- 
bolizes the faded hope of the citizens of Boston. Thus, it is ap- 
propriate to the ends of the novel. 

Though the color black is not included in the Noh hierarchy of 
values, the waki . as Keene points out, usually wears the black robes 
of a priest. The color of his garment is, of course, appropriate to 
his office, but it also contrasts to the colorful brocades of the 
shite and thus aesthetically emphasizes their difference in impor- 
tance. 28 Black is, of course, also the color of a Catholic priest's 
robes and thus appropriate to Zelazny’s Christianizing of the play. 

Typically, however, he is working at many levels simultaneously, 
so that the color takes on additional meanings. Black is an extrin- 
sic symbol for death in Western culture, and within the context of 
the novel, Boston is being stalked by bubonic plague, commonly 
called the ^lack Plague, Moreover, the color amplifies the meaning 
of the charactonym which he has chosen for the priest. Dearth can 
mean scarcity, lack, or famine. Dearth is on his way to Boston, 
Symbolically, then, famine is on its way to the city. This is, of 
course, a common by-product of plague. 

In the course of the play’s action. Dearth’s pilgrimage to 
Boston is interrupted by the encounter with Brady’s ghost. This 
event symbolizes the capacity of the Brady-Tanner mission to save 
the city through the delivery of the Haffikine serum. Since Tanner 
is the dreamer of the play, this event is pivotal in his develop- 
ment, for it represents the first time that he really believes that 
he can succeed. 


"The music of the Noh," writes Waley, "has no independent 
existence as music, but simply supplies a background to the dancing 
and recitation ."29 This does not imply, however, that the music is 
unimportant to the play. Rather, it is quite important. Its func- 
tion is to shadow the voices of the actors and signal the points of 
tension. The musicians, especially the drummers, have the nerves 
of the audience in their hands. 


12 


Though there is no music as such in Zelazny’s Noh, he does 
suggest it through the presence of a leitmotif. It is established 
early in the play when he refers both to ’’the steady rumble of an 
engine, . , which neither rises nor diminishes in volume," and to 
"the sound, . ,of, , , striking upon a fender with a stone at five 
second intervals With these two devices, he simulates the hyp- 
notic effect created in the traditional Noh by the okawa , kotsuzumi , 
and taiko drums. When he uses the leitmotif formed by this con- 
junction of sounds, he consistently modifies it with the adjectives 
"steady" and "undiminished." The two sounds play off of one another 
to create a contrapuntal relationship, similar but not so intricate 
as that created between the drums and flute of the traditional Noh, 

Zelazny uses the leitmotif to signal points of tension, making 
it function in the same way as the music of the traditional Noh. 

The rumble /fender- striking motif occurs four times in the play. The 
first time is just after the nanori , a prose passage in which the 
waki names himself and announces his intention of making a journey. 

In this case, the nanori is delivered by Father Dearth. Tradition- 
ally, it is followed by the michiyuki , a travel song by the waki and 
his companions which ends with a statement of arrival at their des- 
tination. This completes the first section of the play, called the 
jo . The middle section, or h^, then begins with the appearance of 
shite . It is in the place normally occupied by the michiyuki 
that Zelazny introduces the rumble/fender- striking motif. It serves 
to suggest travel, even though it is not sung. And it prepares the 
reader for the first appearance of Brady’s ghost. 

The second use of the motif occurs after the initial dialogue 
between Dearth and the ghost, which sets the scene and comprises the 
issei , ninoku , and sannoku sections of the traditional play. It 
pinpoints the first moment of tension, created when Dearth tells 
the ghost that he cannot pray for a man \diose name he does not know. 

The third instance follows a sashi . a passage where the shite 
explains his own situation. It concludes the section of Zelazny’s 
play. It also highli^ts the dramatic moment when Dearth tells 
Brady to go to his rest through a door of the abandoned car which 
serves as the stage. 

The final use of the motif is to emphasize Brady’s naming of 
himself. This act, of course, guarantees both his and Tanner’s 
salvation and signals the end of Zelazny’s play. It is the ultimate 
dramatic moment of the micro-Noh. It is followed only by the images 
of promise; the mask, bandage, and garment dropping to the ground, 
the new dawn, the cock crowing, and a whiteness beginning in the 
eastern sky. 

As with the music of the play, Zelazny suggests the dance. Of 
the dance, Keene states, "The higher the ’dignity’ of the play, the 
fewer and simpler the movements of the dances; unable to distract by 
mere virtuosity, the actor must transmute each gesture into symbolic 
utterance. . .The audiences. . .attend Noh not for brilliance of 
footwork but for absolute assurance in every gesture of the head, 

13 


arms, body, and legs, an inevitability that expresses the nature of 
a role better than the most literal display. He continues, **The 
depth of communication- “the ability of the actor to express with his 
whole body the torment, serene joy, or bittersweet longing felt by a 
character--is the only touchstone of his powers. The Noh actors, 
with the barest economy of means, achieve in song and dance a gran- 
deur of expression fully intelligible only to spectators who have 
made comparable efforts to understand this fully rewarding art."^^ 

Zelazny suggests dance by having Brady mime the act of driving. 
This occurs while the dead driver explains his situation to Dearth. 
Brady is described as sitting behind the wheel, placing his hands 
upon it, and staring straight ahead. He does not move head or hands 
until the end of the dance, which is signaled when he lowers his 
head to the wheel. This episode meets at least two of the criteria 
established in the dance of the traditional Noh. First, it is per- 
formed with an economy of movement. If we accept Keene's statement 
that the fewer and simpler the movements of the dance, the higher 
the dignity of the play, then we must admit that Zelazny has suc- 
ceeded in imbuing his micro-Noh with the hipest level of kurai , 
for Brady's movements have been minimized. Second, the form of the 
dance--as a mime of driving--correlates perfectly with the maxim 
that the dance grow out of the plot.^^ No single other act best 
expresses what the novel is about. 

With its emphasis on economy and its tendency toward the abso- 
lute, Zelazny found the perfect vehicle to extend his characteriza- 
tion of Hell Tanner. By deftly modifying its conventions to suit 
the novel and by redirecting it in such a way as to make it more 
intelligible to Western readers, he was also, however, able to 
utilize it as a device to amplify the theme of Damnation Alley - -the 
interdependence of mankind . 

Crucial to this objective is the emphasis he places on naming. 
How Zelazny has focused the reader's attention on naming has been 
discussed earlier. The reason for this, however, has not. Ulti- 
mately, the device is a means for the author to call attention to 
his own innate inhumanity and to extol the virtues of the individual 
over the insensitivity created by runaway technology. After all, 
what is more personal than a man's name? 

Throughout Zelazny's novels runs a strong anti-technology 
theme. It is most evident in Damnation Alley and Jack of Shadows . 
in which Jack must destroy the Great Machine so that the world may 
continue to turn in an orderly way. The anti-technology theme is 
in itself, however, only a means to make a statement about the 
relationship of man to society. In Damnation Alley , he seems to be 
saying several things about this relationship. First, technology 
untempered by humanism is ultimately disastrous. Second, the quality 
of any society is a direct reflection of the quality of the people 
who comprise it. Third, the relationship between man and society is 
reciprocal* Fourth, a society which is mentally healthy promotes 
individual integrity, deep and meaningful interpersonal relation- 
ships, and optimal opportunity for the development of human abili- 
ties. Finally, man must ultimately rely upon man. 

14 


For the masses, the pre-War society of Damnation Alley offered 
only two possibilities: conformity to socially patterned defect, 
like that exhibited by Joseph, the hero of Saul Bellow's The Dangling 
Man , or rebellion, like that exhibited by Hell Tanner, Both alter- 
natives produce alienation, and in the last analysis. Damnation 
Alley is a novel about alienation. 

Zelazny dramatizes it by using two s3mibols: Boston and "The 
Alley," Boston is a city doubly isolated. It is cut off by "The 
Alley" and its multiple dangers, and its citizens are divorced from 
human contact by the plague, (Note the metaphoric similarity of 
Boston to the Algerian City in Camus' The Plague , ) "The Alley," 
itself, serves as a barrier to isolate effectively the only two re- 
maining pockets of civilization, Boston and Los Angeles. It has 
been created, of course, by man himself, and at the literal level 
represents technology untempered by humanism. At another level, it 
is the symbol of God's justice for men who have turned away from the 
basic precepts of Christianity. 

The Noh, as Zelazny has modified it, itself becomes a symbol 
for the society he wishes could exist. It stresses the beautiful, 
the humane, the ideal. It emphasizes the individual. It has value 
and integrity. He has made it the focal point of the novel, an 
alembic through which the meaning is distilled. In doing so, he 
has raised not only the character of Hell Tanner but the novel as 
well to a higher level , 


Notes 

^Roger Zelazny, Damnation Alley (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 
1969), pp. 149-152. 

2 

Zelazny, Unpublished Letter (August 29, 1971). 

3 

Zelazny, Letter . 

4 

Zelazny, Letter . 

^Donald Keene, Noh . The Classical Theatre of Japan (Palo Alto, 
California: Kodansha International, 1966), p, 24. 

^ Ibid . . p. 26. 

^Ibid., p. 26. 

^Ibid .. p. 59. 

^Ibid . . p. 4. 

^^Ibid. , p. 26. 


15 


^^Arthur Waley, The Noh Plays of Japan (New York: Grove Press 
1962), p* 52. 

12 

Zelazny, Damnation Alley , p. 152. 

13 

Keene, p, 24. 

^^Waley, p. 17. 

^^Zelazny, Letter . 

16 

Keene, p. 21. 

^^ Ibid .. p. 23. 

^^ Ibld .. p. 11, 

^^ Ibld .. p. 69. 

20 

Ibid ., p. 69. 

21 

Zelazny, Damnation Alley , p, 150. 

^ ^Ibld .. p. 152. 

23 

Keene, p. 69. 

24 

Ibid ., p. 74. 

^^ Ibld .. p. 74. 

^ ^Ibid .. p. 73. 

^^Ibid.. p. 73. 

^ ^Ibld .. p. 26. 

^^aley, p. 29. 

30 

Ibid., p. 29. 

31 

Zelazny, Damnation Alley , p. 149. 

^^Keene, p. 79. 

^^ Ibld .. p. 81. 

^ ^Ibld .. p. 80. 


Kent State University 
Kent, Ohio 44242 


16 


Some Preliminaries to the 
Criticism of Science Fiction 

Michael W. McClintock 

Most general discussions of science fiction trudge eventually 
into a bog of terminology, there dismally to founder. I shall be- 
gin well inside the bog, with hopes of trudging out. 

In 1966 Frank Herbert *s novel. Dune, won the first Nebula Award 
given by the Science Fiction Writers of America, as well as the 
Hugo given by the 24th World Science Fiction Convention. Dune had 
appeared as a serial in Analog Science Fict ion/ Science Fact magazine; 
was published in cloth by Chilton and in paper by Ace; was reviewed 
by the major science fiction magazines, a few newspapers, and none 
of the mass-circulation magazines. Neither the New York Times Book 
Review nor Saturday Review noticed it. 

Since some of Frank Herbert*s other novels include The Dragon 
in the Sea . Destination ; Void . The Green Brain . The Eyes of Heisen - 
berg . The Santaroga Barrier . Whipping Star , and Project 40 . external 
evidence clearly suggests that Dune is science fiction. Internal 
evidence also appears to support the suggestion: nearly all the 
action occurs upon a planet of the star Canopus; the time is sever- 
al thousands of years in our supposed future; several technological 
devices that do not now and conceivably may never exist are impor- 
tant to the story. But as some commentators who dislike the book 
have pointed out, the planet Arrakis is at best unlikely, the time 
might as easily have been set in the indefinite past, and the de- 
vices exist only for the sake of the story that Herbert wants to 
tell. That story, to conclude the indictment, is about neither sci- 
ence itself nor the human effects of science; it is about a messiah 
and the sort of people who follow him.^ The consequent question is, 
why not forget the imaginary technology, the still more imaginary 
planet, and the quite improbable future history? Why not write 
about Mohammed or Christ or Chairman Mao? Of course, no one would 
think of such a book as science fiction. 

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., his publishers, and most of his reviewers 
have struggled, with some success, to keep readers from thinking of 
Vonnegut *s works as science fiction. Yet one of the best known of 
those works, Cat*s Cradle , is precisely about a scientific innova- 
tion and its human consequences. Moreover, that scientific innova- 
tion, ice -nine, is much more firmly based upon known science than 
is anything in Dune . Vonnegut *s ruination of Earth has a verisimil- 
itude that Herbert's salvation of Arrakis cannot even pretend to 


17 


claim* It seems, then, that if we regard a label as accidental and 
a generic category as of the essence, we ought to speak of Cat's 
Cradle as science fiction and of Dune as something else. The ter- 
minological problem is that many, perhaps most, readers would re- 
gard both books as science fiction. 

A novel and a novelette may together illustrate a complementary 
difficulty in definition. The two works share a structural simi- 
larity. Each confronts its leading characters with a scientific 
problem that must be solved under threat of widespread disaster, at 
grave individual risk, and under conditions of high emotional and 
intellectual pressure. The novelette, "Blowups Happen" by Robert 
A. Heinlein, supposes a problem in a nuclear power plant. ^ The in- 
herently unstable reactor must be kept in order through constant 
human attention; should the thing get out of control, the resulting 
explosion would devastate the entire planet. Since the strain upon 
the reactor's operators is that of being responsible for millions 
of lives, the very Conditions of the reactor's operation statisti- 
cally insure that a catastrophe will happen, first psychologically 
to an individual, then physically to everyone. Thus the pun of the 
story's title. But two engineers solve the problem by using one of 
the reactor's own by-products to place the reactor in orbit, whence 
artificial isotopes may be brought down to Earth for use as safe 
fuels . 


A similar problem-solution pattern organizes The Andromeda 
Strain , although Michael Crichton's novel has to do with biophysics 
rather than with nucleonics; the scientists in Wildfire Laboratory 
must discover the nature of an extra-terrestrial microorganism and 
learn to control it before it infests all Earth. The final concern 
of Crichton's story, as well as Heinlein's, is the effect upon 
brilliant men of working under unremitting stress. For our present 
purposes, the crucial difference between the novel and the novelette 
is not a distinction between plots. What matters is that Crichton's 
biophysics is plausible now, whereas Heinlein's nucleonics is not. 
Theoretically, a living organism might be based upon crystalline 
structures, but there is not even a theoretical possibility that a 
nuclear power plant could behave as Heinlein describes one behaving. 

I have not yet mentioned an important datum: "Blowups Happen" 
was published in 1940. Even the uniquely privileged inhabitants of 
Manhattan Project could think that a fission plant, out of control, 
might blow up some large fraction of a state. Today, though, we 
know that a fission reactor capable of generating a power flow or 
of breeding more fuel is incapable of becoming an atomic bomb.^ This 
could be taken to indicate not only that, while Crichton's novel is 
still science fiction, Heinlein's novelette no longer is, but also 
that the novelette truly never was science fiction and that the 
novel someday may be judged never to have been. If a fiction writ- 
er's stock in trade is solely ideas about physics or chemistry or 
the future, then by every standard his fiction will be rendered 
inane when physics or chemistry passes it by or the future comes 
upon it. Eventually such a criterion of viable prognostication may 
make the category "science fiction" an empty set. 


18 


The criterion is close to some widely received definitions of 
science fiction. Heinlein has given one such: "Realistic specula- 
tion about possible future events, based solidly on adequate know- 
ledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough under- 
standing of the nature and significance of the scientific method."^ 
"Blowups Happen" is based solidly upon inadequate knowledge of 
nucleonics and — if one wishes to cavil--of real-world human psy- 
chology. Such a definition as his also fits On the Beach reasonably 
well, although Nevil Shute probably did not think of his novel as 
science fiction, and his publishers certainly did not represent it 
to be. 


Thus terminological consideration of science fiction involves 
at least two sorts of difficulty. One is of a kind familiar to all 
who study literature. Except for those defined by the most formal 
verbal characteristics (e.g., sonnet, ballade, chemistry lab report), 
genres tend to blur when particular examples are cited, and any 
suggested definition tends to suit well only the would-be definer’s 
preferred works. The other difficulty is of a kind possibly less 
familiar to those professional — or semi-pro — readers who take their 
good taste seriously. Ever since it began to be more or less identi- 
fiable as a genre, science fiction has suffered under a burden of 
cultural disrepute. In the late 1930’ s Bernard de Vo to called it 
"besotted nonsense"; in the middle 1950’ s Arthur Koestler took 
notice of it long enough to dismiss it, with all fantasy, as boring. 
De Voto and Koestler are not, of course, attacking Aldous Huxley or 
H. G. Wells or even Jules Verne. It is Flash Gordon whom they de- 
plore; it is A. E. van Vogt whom they condemn. Koestler is careful 
to admit that Huxley and Wells and Jonathan Swift wrote science 
fiction, but "such exercises were isolated literary extravaganzas" 
and, besides, "the gadgets of the future ... serve merely as a 
background or pretext for a social message."^ Brave New World is 
thus redeemed for literature. Under this kind of pressure "science 
fiction" functions chiefly as a pejorative term. 

When Hugo Gernsback first used the term in the late 1920’ s, he 
was naming a sort of fiction that had existed for many years , written 
in the nineteenth and early twentieth century by men whom most 
readers do not today think of as science fiction writers. Gernsback 
and other editors after him printed only this sort of fiction in 
their magazines. James Blish has specified what happened: "An all- 
fiction periodical — and all one kind of fiction, at that--demands to 
be filled periodically; if good material is not available, bad must 
be published. The bad never completely drove out the good, but 
it did become much more visible, and if a writer had any pretensions 
to literary esteem, he might write a science fiction story, but he 
would never submit it for publication in Amazing or Galaxy . There 
follow both the effective restriction of the term "science fiction" 
to the stuff in those magazines with the bug-eyed monsters on the 
covers and Kurt Vonnegut’s reluctance to admit that Player Piano is 
science fiction. 

The characteristic struggle among science fiction writers, 
readers, and critics to define what it is that they are writers, 

19 


readers, and critics of derives much intensity from this cultural 
situation. Since the definition of a term may be substituted for 
the term defined, working out a definition for "science fiction" 
becomes at least partly an exercise in the rhetoric of respectabili 
ty. A definition of science fiction, while differentiating that 
form from all other forms of fiction, may serve also to connect it 
to those forms terminologically , thus putting it in their company. 
Note some of the words and phrases in Heinlein's definition: 
"realistic . . . possible . . . based solidly . . . knowledge . . . 
real world ... thorough understanding ... scientific method." 
Not even Bernard de Voto is likely to have been purely contemptuous 
of realism, solid foundations, and understanding. Implicitly, 
Heinlein*s definition may serve as well a contradictory impulse by 
according to science fiction an autonomy of function: it can do 
something nothing else can do; e.g., render a conceivable future, 
perceive science in human terms This functional claim has re- 
cently gained precision and force from the discovery by writers, 
reviewers, some academics, and several entrepreneurs that science 
fiction is "The Modern Mythology." The discovery, though it offers 
attractive grounds upon which to contend that sf is the wave of 
fiction’s future, has occasioned some embarrassment as it grows 
more apparent that science fiction seems inappropriate for naming 
what is usually written by those most influenced by the discovery, 
such as Roger Zelazny, J. G. Ballard, R. A. Lafferty, or Joanna 
Russ. A tendency has evolved to fit other words to the initials 
sf and announce that the science may have been useful but it was 
never fundamental. 

One leading revisionist, Alexei Panshin, has supplied two 
definitions that he finds equally acceptable (on the model of the 
wave and particle theories of li^t — use whichever is the more 
convenient at the moment) : "speculative fantasy is fiction which 
employs a narrative strategy of crucial exception to the mimetic 
world"; "speculative fantasy is fiction in which a synthesis of 
feeling and idea is primary, and particular perception is second- 
ary."^ In practice the first definition suits both the Divine 
Comedy and "The Game of Rat and Dragon"; the second, both The 
Prelude and The Enemy Stars 

Another essay in terminological refinement may be useful. 

Since speculation is more a faculty of economics than it is of 
literature, and since fantasy emphasizes the act of perception 
rather than the act of making, I shall cleave to the term I grew 
up with and say that "works of science fiction posit fictive worlds 
more or less distant from ours in unexplored space or in future 
time but connected to ours by an implicitly or explicitly assumed 
chronological sequence or spatial relationship." The expression 
lacks grace, but it covers, so far as I can remember them all, 
every work of fiction that I have ever regarded as science fiction, 
and it spares me the embarrassment of having to include Arrow smith 
or The Andromeda Strain in the canon. I suspect I may be unable to 
make it exclude More’s Utopia or Campanella’s Civitas Solis , v^ich 
I have never regarded as science fiction, but few definitions of 
any literary kind are so efficacious as never to require the odd 

20 


codicil or arbitrary qualification* The definition must serve our 
encounters with the literary works; neither the works nor the en- 
counters can be made finally to serve the definition* 

Whatever its deficiencies, mine is a definition according to 
act and so may serve to remind us that science fiction, like all 
fictions, stands in a rhetorical bearing toward its readers* The 
end of science fiction* s rhetoric is a particular case of the 
willing suspension of disbelief. To that now almost tiresomely 
familiar phrase, Coleridge added that the state constitutes poetic 
faith. It may be odd that a Romantic should identify poetic faith 
in such negative terms, as though disbelief were the primordial 
state, but the identification is certainly appropriate in the 
twentieth century* The fundamental assumption of our age is the 
radical form of the contention which Socrates was at such pains to 
demonstrate to Adeimantus and Glaucon; that all poems are lies* We 
know both that truth and its general version, for we live among the 
debris of a great failure* The effort of logical positivism to de- 
vise a language at once as purely referential as mathematics and as 
humanly usable as English or Urdu has only shown that T^atever we 
write or speak, in any conceivable human tongue, must be a poem* 
Liars perforce, we must make our truths of lies; our lies must be 
our truths, and our lies must be made* The manifold lies of science 
fiction may be satirical, psychological, prophetic, sociological, 
philosophical, escapist; but whatever its other concerns, any work 
of science fiction would persuade its readers of a synthetic reality 
that shares the ontological grounds of our common reality. That 
synthetic reality will not be Middle Earth, for talking eagles and 
walking trees are lies many of us have not told each other, but it 
might be Arrakis, for we have made psychedelic drugs and strange 
machines* There are more things in heaven, and perhaps upon earth, 
than are dreamed of in our philosophy, but ^at our natural philos- 
ophy does not dream of cannot contribute to any structure naturally 
founded upon the terms of the world in which we suspect we live. 

Such a structure may be, however, at once mundane and fabulous. 
The central action of one of Isaac Asimov *s best-known lies, the 
short story **Nightfall , ** is the description of a planet *s astro- 
physical situation and that situation's psychological consequences 
for its population* Lagash orbits in a system comprising six 
suns. Once in two thousand years a pattern recurs such that five 
suns are in one celestial hemisphere, with the smallest of the six 
in opposition. At this time Lagash's moon eclipses that smallest 
sun* Because the moon's shadow is wider than Lagash and the period 
of totality exceeds the planet's rotational period, night falls at 
least briefly upon the entire planet. The people Lagash go mad 
with fear, not only of the dark but also of the stars that appear in 
the darkness. The glow with which the story ends rises from a city 
put to the torch by folk wild for light. But however alien their 
situation, the people of Lagash--who have eyes, hands, arms, legs, 
voices; who drink intoxicating red liquids; \dio luild cities, beget 
families, and devise astronomical theories--are very like us. The 
cycles of their history are determined as much by their human nature 
as by the planet on which they live. Furthermore, although Asimov 

21 


specifies neither a temporal nor a spatial connection between Lagash 
and Earth, Lagash is of the universe we know. The natural laws 
that obtain in our solar system hold as well in the system of six 
suns; the workings of those laws bring night to Lagash.^^ 

"Nightfall" carries an epigraph from Emerson: "If the stars 
should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe 
and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the 
city of God I" But the story suggests that fear of the dark may be 
older and stronger than admiration for the twinkling lights, and it 
fabricates a world--in which that fear is peculiarly realized. The 
night of Lagash is not the night of Earth, yet neither is it an en* 
chanted night. We can know its darkness for the same darkness that 
falls regularly upon us and know that our casual acceptance of our 
solitary sun's going is only a custom imposed by a necessity to 
'which we have accommodated our terrors. 

But if the rhetorical purpose of "Nightfall" is solely to make 
its reader see sunsets through re- focused eyes, the creation of 
Lagash must seem a long detour to an end more efficiently reached 
by "You, Andrew Marvell" or Juliet’s soliloquy in Act III, Scene II. 
The charge of superfluity is central in much objection against both 
science fiction and fantasy; it is basic to Arthur Koestler’s bore- 
dom and to Edmund Wilson’s exasperation.^^ The theme of the ob- 
jection is that literature vhich does not directly engage the lives 
and times of its contemporary readers is at best trivial, more 
likely morally irresponsible. Such criticism assumes that the real 
world exists apart from anyone’s imaginings and that the final, 
justifying activity of literature is to enable its readers better 
to live in--or with--this real world. 

By these premises, literature that is not therapeutic is cor- 
ruptive. But science fiction rejects the major premise; fantasy 
the minor. With the second rejection, not a defining characteristic 
of science fiction, I am not here concerned. The first rejection 
is more elemental and, insofar as it is not simple madness, more 
complex: science fiction assumes that a real world exists in, by, 

and through our agreements about what world is real. Under the 
terms of these agreements science fiction creates worlds that are 
not real, nor yet fantastic, but at once other and of our kind. 

The principles (one might say, the instruments) by which a writer 
of science fiction constructs his worlds are the same as those by 
which we conceive our real world. Neither synthesis depends, of 
course, upon perfect understanding of either the principles or the 
real world. The existence of medieval Europe was not contingent 
upon anyone’s perfectly understanding or even writing the Summa 
Theologica ; medieval Europe existed before Aquinas, among others, 
codified the terms of its existence. Thus the science (the word 
should now carry its etymological connotation) upon which any 
particular example of science fiction is grounded may be mis- 
apprehended or willfully distorted, A few calculations of orbits, 
periods and radiation densities will suggest that the stellar 
system of "Nightfall" is implausible. If it were utterly plausible, 
though, we should be living on Lagash. 

22 


The creation of worlds in science fiction has, then, consider- 
able similarity to the recreation of worlds in realistic fiction, 
with a crucial exception: realistic fiction retails to us a world 
we have already collaborated with each other to make, whereas sci- 
ence fiction presents, in the terms of that collaboration, other 
worlds made by individuals. The distinction holds for various 
borderline cases, like Wessex, Yoknapatawpha County, and Costaguana, 
Hardy and Faulkner map their territories onto places already made; 
Conrad inserts his turbulent country into South America , more or 
less in place of Colombia, and proceeds as if everyone had known 
it was there all the time. La gash, though, has no place in our 
history or our present; Arrakis of Dune and Earth of The Enemy Stars 
fit into our universe of rational discourse but not into our real 
wor Id , 

Yet a real world has no especial ontological authority. Al- 
though we must acknowledge ours if we are to live with our fellow 
makers, we need accord it only primacy, not exclusiveness. The 
same prosody may generate different poems. We create worlds be- 
cause we cannot avoid creating them, because we participate in 
creation with every word we speak or hear or write or read. And 
all creation is poetry. Works of science fiction are self-con- 
sciously lies; none purports to be that contradiction, a true 
imitation of the consensual lie which is our real world. But they 
are not cut of whole dreamspun, imported by the bolt from Faerie. 
They are lies we know and know as lies, labors neither of autono- 
mous creation nor of contingent imitation but of an enterprise bal- 
anced between man alone and universe altogether. 


Notes 

^It is also, I should add, about ecology-but so is Nanook of the 

North , For a representative attack on Dune , see Judith Merril, 
"Books," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction , 30 
(March 1966), 51-53. Miss Merril*s strictures were not shared 
by most of those xdio voted in the Hugo and Nebula polls, but 
the voting was not unanimous. 

2 

"Blowups Happen" has appeared in anthologies as well as, originally, 
in Astounding Science - Fic tion magazine, I have used The As - 
tounding Science Fiction Anthology , ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952), pp, 1-42. 

3 

If one of the things overheats, of course, it may become a thermal 
bomb, 

Heinlein could not, at the time he was writing "Blowups Happen," 
have heard the story of Enrico Fermi's dead-man switch at Stagg 
Field. There was some doubt about what might happen when a 
nuclear chain-reaction became self-sustaining, so Fermi spring- 
mounted the damping rods of his fission pile. If the rods were 

23 


not held in place, they would slide into the pile and, every- 
one hoped, shut off the reaction before Chicago was damaged. 

The rods were held in place by a rope; the rope, by a graduate 
student. This anecdote, current among the students of the 
Physics Department while I was one of them, is not wholly in- 
accurate; a brief account of the actual arrangements is in 
Emilio Segre*s Enrico Fermi : Physicist (Chicago: Univ. of 
Chicago Press, 1970), p. 128. 

^"Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues,” in The Science 
Fiction Novel : Imagination and Social Criticism , ed. Basil 
Davenport, 3rd edn. (Chicago: Advent, 1969), p. 22. 

^Bernard de Vo to, “Doom Beyond Jupiter," Harpers , 179 (Sept, 1939), 
446; Koestler, "The Boredom of Fantasy," in The Trail of the 
Dinosaur and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1955), pp, 
142-147. 

^Koestler, pp. 145, 146-147. 

^"The Function of Science Fiction," in The Ligjit Fantastic , ed. 

Harry Harrison (New York: Scribners, 1971), p. 7. 

g 

These functions are strategic to the definitions advanced by Isaac 
Asimov, "Social Science Fiction," Modern Science Fiction : Its 
Meaning and Future , ed. R. Bretnor (New York: Coward-McCann, 
1953), reprinted in Science Fiction : The Future , ed. Dick Allen 
(New York: Harcourt, 1971), pp. 263-290; and by Kingsley Amis, 
New Maps of Hell (New York: Harcourt, 1960), excerpted by Al- 
len, pp. 245-261. 

9 

Alexei Panshin, in Fantastic Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories 
22 (Feb. 1972), 96, 97. 

^^Cordwainer Smith, "The Game of Rat and Dragon," in You Will Never 
Be the Same (New York: Lippincott, 1959). 

^^The story has been reprinted often, most recently in Science Fic - 
tion Hall of Fame , ed. Robert Silverberg (New York: Avon, 

1971), pp. 145-182. It was originally published in Astounding 
in 1941. The vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America 
that determined the content of the Hall of Fame elected it the 
best science fiction short story published before 1965. 

12 

Asimov is no less precise stating the law of gravitation in 

"Nightfall" (pp. 153, 154) than he is in his Intelligent Man’s 
Guide to the Physical Sciences (New York: Washington Square, 
1964), p. 78. 

13 

Edmund Wilson, "Oo, Those Awful Orcsl" The Nation . April 14, 

1956, pp. 312-314. 


University of Montana 
Missoula, Montana 59801 


24 


Joseph Conrad’s Forgotten Role 
in the Emergence of 
Science Fiction* 

Elaine L. Kleiner 

Every culture has its own genres, its forms or kinds of liter- 
ary art directed to speak to the expectations, the capacities, the 
pleasures, and the shape of belief of the members of that culture* 
Literary genres, like other evolving human systems, develop in 
response to socio-environmental pressures. Thus, Susanne Langer 
can demonstrate that tragedy, far from having objective, universal 
existence within the human psyche as Neo-Classical or perhaps even 
Aristotelian critics would insist, is rather a unique structure of 
narrative and linguistic components, the creation of civilizations 
which must have departed from tribal social organization to class 
or social caste organization. For tragedy presumes the existence 
of the unique, unusual man, not co-equal with his fellows as in a 
tribe, but set apart from them by breadth of intellect, character, 
or sensibility. The Chinese, the Africans, the American Indians 
produce genres unique to their societies; primitive oral kinds are 
unique to the folk. Medieval literature abounded in genres which 
perished with the age of faith. Although to communicate, a good 
writer must conform to a genre as it is intuitively understood in 
form and theme by his readers, so, too, he must shape the genre 
with his own unique imagination and insight to be considered orig- 
inal. Thus, much like living organisms, genres gradually grow, 
change, develop, and eventually die with the death of the circum- 
stances that produced them. 

In the evolution of living organisms, a life form may appear 
before environmental conditions conducive to its survival have 
been established. Such seems to have been the case with the 
hominoid Boskop . the early man of Africa who perished despite his 
large brain case. A hostile literary environment may similarly 
be the reason why a progressive and extremely original literary 
creation may not capture the collective interest and imagination 
of its contemporary reading public. Such a work may be forsaken 
because the extremely original author is under great pressure; 
he makes mistakes and may create an awkward, inefficient form 
which may require the talents of others before it is streamlined 
to peak efficiency. An alternative explanation for the failure of 
certain works to impress the collective mind of any audience and 
thus to be denied definition as part of a society's literary heri- 
tage and put in the ranks of forgotten books, may be that an 
author's deviation from his culture's traditional poetics is so 
sharp as to break the tenuous relationship between fictional form, 
probability, and experiential reality that allows the reader to 
*This paper was presented at the MMLA meeting in Chicago, 
November 2-4, 1973 . 


25 


suspend his disbelief, A new world-view, a new form which shatters 
and violates traditional modes of literary communication may open 
new channels of expression for authors, as Eliot’s work liberated 
nineteenth century poetic form, the ungrammatical constructions 
of slang revitalize formal language. However, the relationship 
between linguistic innovation, social readiness, and patterned, 
recognizable communication is very delicate. The work which breaks 
too sharply from what its audience has been conditioned to recognize 
as intelligible is found suspect, flawed, ridiculous, inane, mad. 
Many justifiably poor works may be explained on this basis; many 
poorer ones survive, I believe, through their authors* minor tink- 
ering with safe, exhausted, well-defined genres. Certainly, some 
few of the outrageously innovative creations of an era will indeed 
catch the form of the future, the genre which will capture the 
shape of human hopes, emotional needs, and fears to come. 

I believe The Inheritors (1901), a little known and unusual 
product of collaboration between Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford, 
can best be understood as one such effort to create a "new novel"-- 
an early attempt at writing in a genre which is still in the process 
of being formulated, a flawed and stumbling work which appeared be- 
fore a climate for its comprehension fully existed. Sympathetic 
study of The Inheritors gives one the unique opportunity to discover 
how a new literary genre is formed, how a popular audience may to- 
tally misunderstand an author's attempts to work out a new form of 
literary communication, and finally, how two recognized major lit- 
erary talents may produce an innovative and interesting, if flawed, 
work that nevertheless will become totally forgotten by the liter- 
ary establishment within a century. Certainly "collaboration," a 
method of creation which critics tend almost instinctively to 
despise, has not stimulated any reconsideration or revival of the 
novel among academicians. However, this factor alone certainly 
would not explain its demise. The book is poorly written and con- 
ceived, but others among Conrad’s more poorly written books -- Chance 
Victory - -manage to survive with academic respectability. Rather, 
I believe it was and perhaps still is the "genre" of The Inheritors 
that keeps the sophisticated reader from approaching such an in- 
novative novel with interest, for finally, the book is an early 
attempt to codify the form one can now safely label "science fic- 
tion," 


Science fiction differs from other contemporary literary forms 
in a number of highly significant ways. The very name given this 
extremely loosely defined genre was not coined until 1926, It is 
a "mythologic" rather than a "mimetic" literature in the sense that 
its subject matter involves the confrontation of human imagination 
with the unknown rather than the known. Although, as with all fic- 
tions, it is governed by disciplining laws of probability, its 
probabilities begin from a starting point different from that of 
mimetic literature. Its central symbols, its methods of character- 
ization, its vocabulary, its conventions, all differ from those of 
mimetic literature. Science fiction can further be differentiated 
from other forms of speculative fiction ("Sword and sorcery"; 
supernatural, dream, allegory, and utopian fiction) in that basic- 

26 


ally it is a form of literature which takes as its subject matter 
the imagined reality of the future and human response to that 
future. 

The socio-environmental climate T^ich would sustain a genre 
such as science fiction has been in existence for only a short time. 
For thousands of years, most of western mankind literally believed 
in no future; a "golden age" located variously in the human past 
sufficed for the shape of the future--a millennium, a revival of 
Eden, a return of the Gods, a new Classicism. One must look to the 
thinkers of the English Enlightenment whom Jonathan Swift contemp- 
tuously branded "projectors" for men who truly believed in a future 
different from both past and present which would demand change and 
adaptability on the part of mankind. Classic science fiction prop- 
erly begins with the "projector" Daniel Defoe and with Mary Shelley, 
herself the daughter of "projector" William Godwin. In 1705, with 
his Consolidator ; or Transactions from the World in the Moon, Defoe 
began to work with a theme which eventually was to become standard 
to the genre science fiction; more importantly, he defined a frame 
of mind essential to fuel the creation of a new literary genre 
based on the impact of science, and the technologic and sociologic 
changes science fosters, on man. His lone economic man, Robinson 
Crusoe, suggested faith in the enterprise of all men adapting to 
change by the skills of their intellect, even as Mary Shelley would 
later define the potential of a new genre given over to the study 
of man adapting to new powers in her Frankenstein ; or the Modern 
Prometheus . ^ 


It is this potential climate for the appearance of a new genre 
established in the eighteenth century that H. G, Wells had begun to 
exploit with monumental success in his strikingly original study of 
man adapting in the future. The Time Machine (1895). Wells him- 
self was firmly convinced of the human potential for change as an 
historian, sociologist, and exponent of Darwinian evolutionary 
theory. And it was Wells's pioneering delineation of the new genre 
alternately called "future history" or "fiction of space and time" 
which seems to have spurred the efforts of the two collaborators 
Ford and Conrad to create in The Inheritors their own unique and 
dark vision of the way late nineteenth century man, edging his way 
to the twentieth century, would adapt to political, social, and 
post-industrial change. The collaborators had chosen as an epigraph 
for their novel an inscription unearthed in 1872 from the funeral 
monument of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus , the last in his dynasty 
and civilization.^ This outcry from the ancient past, suggesting 
as it does the brevity of great civilizations and of human hope it- 
self, certainly must have seemed echoed in the status of the British 
empire in 1899 to the two authors. Between the years 1850 to 1875, 
the British nation lived through an era of unequaled power and pros- 
perity. Twenty years later, on the verge of Victoria's death, the 
empire had begun the process of fragmentation and economic stagna- 
tion which has carried it to the status of the minor power we know 
today. Profound anxiety and sense of decay, decline, decadence, 
and change characterize the turn-of-the-century European world. 
Conrad was already deeply involved in chronicling changes in values 


and culture among natives affected by white civilization in South 
America, the Congo, and Indo-China. It is reasonable to assume he 
would seek a form which would allow him to turn his attention to 
the future change and decline within his own adopted nation. 

Science fiction provided such a form, but the genre had not 
yet solidified to the point that it was clear how to handle a char- 
acter or structure an action of serious intent put into motion by 
the appearance of figures from a future dimension of time. Among 
English-speaking writers, Stevenson had approached a story of the 
impact of science on man as thinly disguised allegory in his 
Strange Case of Jekyll and Mr . Hyde (1886); Poe had used the 
moon voyage theme common to other antecedents of science fiction 
but only as dream or vision. Wells, however, had created his sci- 
ence fiction with the techniques of the "realist" or social natu- 
ralist, and Conrad and Ford, being basically committed to the 
narrative techniques of realism despite their attraction to the 
deeper form of romance, chose to follow his definition and create 
a realistic fiction extended along a space-time continuum. Through- 
out the 1890’ s, Conrad, Wells, and Ford had been good friends, 
Kentish neighbors, and intense admirers of one another’s work. In 
1899, Wells published two sister stories. When the Sleeper Wakes 
and "A Story of Days to Come," set in the twenty- second century and 
remarkably similar to The Inheritors in depicting a world increas- 
ingly dominated by oppressive Capitalism evolving toward a social 
structure divided between a blue-canvas-clad proletariat and a 
pleasure-seeking class of controllers.^ Public reaction to the 
three works was also similar, for none of these sociological science 
fictions was in any way as popular as Wells’s Time Machine or War 
of the Worlds (1898), the novels which the popular audience valued 
for fantasy-adventure as much as for futuristic extrapolation. In 
1899, however, the idea of working with Wells’s "novels of space 
and time" seemed promising and, leaving the distant future as 
Wells’s province, the collaborators decided to try for their own 
new novel situated in the immediate future. 


The catalyst for this effort, outside the desire to capitalize 
on Wells’s financial success, seems to have been Conrad’s experience 
with a new and marvelous device- -the X-ray machine. While in Glas- 
gow seeking a position with the Castle Line shipowners, Conrad had 
been able to relax in the company of Dr. John MacIntyre, a pioneer 
radiologist and surgeon. MacIntyre’s home housed one of the first 
X-ray machines, and during his stay, Conrad had seen the machine 
in use. It is not surprising that the encounter should have caused 
the author, in the midst of his struggles with The Rescue , to con- 
sider its possibilities for his own fiction.^ It is reasonable to 
assume Conrad then passed this idea on to Ford,^ 


The novel was actually written between October 1899 and March 
1900. In final form it concerns a love affair between a contempor- 
ary man of aristocratic tradition, Etchingham Granger, and a woman 
from the dimension of future time. Friends of Conrad allege the 
novel came mainly from the pen of Ford Madox Ford and was revised, 
with addition and reconstruction of several passages, by the older 

28 


ilLa^ delineated its major themes as well. Conrad's severe 

neJ ’^y have kept him from holding the 

canv the work is Lsi- 

^ lly his own and that it bears close resemblances in theme and 

^.echnique to other significant works he was writing at the time— 
Heart of Darkness," Lord Jim , and Nostromo . Careful examination 
of the records of both authors indicates that the novel appears to 
have been the product of agonizing nights of dictation, with one 
author suggesting passages then scrutinized carefully by the other, 
the collaborated effort then making its way into a final manuscript.^ 
Unfortunately, on its appearance in March 1901, the novel was se- 
verely criticized, and subsequently both authors attempted to dis- 
associate themselves from its creation. Since that time. The 
Inheritors has languished for seventy years in dusty oblivion, 
worth hardly a cursory line or two in most scholarly surveys of 
Conrad's work.' Misunderstood in its own time as incomprehensible 
and nonsense, perhaps now when science fiction has become a recog- 
nizable genre to most readers the novel can bear reevaluation. 


The idea of a machine which could "see through” matter pre- 
sented several alternative lines of imaginative speculation to the 
two collaborators. Breaking with Wells's geometric model of the 
future extended like a line continuous from the present, Conrad and 
Ford chose to imagine the future somewhat like a kernel contained 
within the seed of the present, co-existing with the present as an 
alternative universe on a different plane in time, its inhabitants 
gradually, over time, attaining dominance over present forms of 
life. The collaborators hypothesized, much as Bulwer Lytton had in 
The Coming Race (1871), that evolution was to be imagined not as 
orderly progression but rather as a process of "weeding out" and 
exterminating unsuccessful life forms to make way for the dominance 
of existing stronger forms. Even as early mammals, small and weak, 
co-existed with the dinosaurs they would replace. Ford and Conrad 
seem to have imagined that the "new man," the "Ubermensch" of the 
future, would appear gradually, in small numbers, and would struggle 
to achieve dominance and power over those he was to replace. This 
belief is revealed throu^ the novel's plot, a fable of three "Di- 
mens ionists"- -one a politician, one a "yellow journalist," and one 
an aggressive, almost masculine woman-of- fortune, all members of a 
future race of superseders--who will "inherit the earth" and who 
will interact with and rise to power among their more psychologi- 
cally primitive contemporaries: 

The Dimensionists were to come in swarms, to materialize, 
to devour like locusts, to be all the more irresistible 
because indistinguishable. ... As to methods, [mankind] 
should be treated as we [the imperial powers] treat in- 
ferior races. There would be no fighting, no killing; 
we--our whole social system--would break as a beam snaps, 
because we were worm-eaten with altruism and ethics. 

(pp. 12-13) 


29 


F.r £t« con.««lng. ».U« <•«. 
proceed along the Sangrtould be primarily spiri- 

::r»SwtT£f.ct.d .hrLsh th. .ina »£ 

Itself. Granger, the novel’s protagonist, the veil-educated ^ 
product of the best traditions of past human rural and feudal social 
civilizations, first encounters one of these super seders during a 
tour of Canterbury Cathedral. Under her influence. Granger, like a 
man possessed of X-ray vision, seems to see the shrine of the Chris- 
tian martyr for what it has become in post -Darwinian times — shabby 
and decayed, its new worshippers, tourists rather than the faithful, 
staring at it with blank incomprehension. He learns the Dimens ion- 
ists are to replace these older Christian powers with their own new 
power of implacable scientific logic: 


[The Dimensionists] are a race clear-sighted, eminently 
practical, incredible; with no ideals, prejudices, or 
remorse; with no feeling for art and no reverence for 
life; free from any ethical tradition; callous to pain, 
weakness, suffering, and death, as if they had been in- 
vulnerable and immortal. 

(PP. 9-10) 


Why Granger should be fortunate or unfortunate enough to be 
taken alone into the confidence of the super seders is unclear. The 
thin machinations of storytelling surface here. However, his voca- 
tion as a despaired artist-turned- journalist attached to the staff 
of a great London newspaper, itself run by an Inheritor, certainly 
places him in a unique position to watch the superseders* rise to 
power. Conrad and Ford meticulously have taken this ascension a- 
part facet by facet, revealing a paradigm frighteningly prophetic- 
in part of the collision of social forces which resulted in World 
War I, in part of the kind of social climate amenable to the rise 
of demogogic powers which resulted in World War II, and in part of 
those forces which would allow the unscrupulous to manipulate the 
masses of a modern democracy in our own era. Further, the novel 
demonstrates the collaborators* understanding of how the arts, 
once the repository of enlightened human thought and high endeavor, 
would degenerate into a mass media controlled by businessmen for 
profit, the vehicle of propaganda and illusion. The Inheritors* 
concern is with size, expansion, the organization and control of 
masses of mankind. They are characteristically urban creatures, at 
home in a crowded, socially-alienating world which whirls with 
directionless motion, its people *' indistinguishable ears ... in 
a wheat-field” (p, 175). Finally, they are consummate behavioral 
psychologists, using the talents of lesser men by playing on their 
drives of ego and desire for status. They work from an internation- 
al rather than national base of power, sponsoring, promoting, and 
implicating their enemies in the activities of the Due de Mersch, a 
monarch with an hereditary moral claim to the continent of **Green- 
land,” in his ruthlessly imperialist economic exploitation of that 
imaginary country. Through Fox, the Inheritor, Granger is intro- 
duced to the world of human tools used by **yellow press,** self- 
seeking, irresponsible journalists, the powerful media men who 

30 


manipulate democratic masses through forces which began to evolve 
at the turn of the century as a result of the mass audience's 
interest in scandal and its taste for the sensational. Granger 
gradually becomes more and more deeply, though inadvertently, in- 
volved with the Inheritors' plot to discredit the British foreign 
minister Churchill, a man of probity and honor whose life-style 
has been shaped by his admiration of the great Christian statesman 
Oliver Cromwell, Their plot would replace him with Gurnard, the 
Inheritor, the product of mass media publicity and its ability to 
swing the opinions and votes of a democracy ruled by numbers rather 
than by ethical belief. Churchill is carefully framed by Fox's 
newspaper so that when de Mersch's scandalous exploitation of 
"Greenland" is revealed, the government is implicated as a backer 
of the enterprise, and it topples. In The Inheritors , the political 
landscape of the future has thus been harshly divided between powers 
of business and the press (the province of the Dimensionis ts) , and 
the government and its loyal, traditional supporters who battle for 
power without impartial, mitigating influence of Judicial, reli- 
gious, or parlimentary bodies. In a succeeding election, Churchill's 
constituency- -once the repository of national ideals and now cor- 
rupted — of European Royalists seeking their lost thrones, the too- 
complacent rich, the imperial financiers, and the land-owning rural 
gentry is no match for Gurnard's ability to maneuver mass opinion 
through his newspapers and rallies. Like Wells, the collaborators 
have expressed their fear in the novel that social leadership would 
pass from the hands of the educated upper and middle classes to 
those of the lower "democratic" masses, a fear Conrad had explored 
earlier in The Nigger of the Narcissus , The authors have seen 
this process as inevitable, for Churchill's "higher morality" is 
shown to rest on lies and corruptions within his tradition. He 
falls, one small figure in the Inheritors' on-going master plan, 
and the novel ends with the Dimens ionist woman's ruthless discus- 
sion of the course of human evolution: 

I was in the hands of the future; I never swerved; I went 
my way. I had to judge men as I judged you; to corrupt, 
as I corrupted you. I cajoled; I held out hopes; and with 
everyone, as with you, I succeeded. It is in that power 
that the secret of greatness which is virtue, lies. I had 
set about a work of art, of an art strange to you; as 
strange, as alien as the arts of dead people. You are the 
dead now, mine the art of an ensuing day,^ All that re- 
mains to you is to fold your hands and wonder, as you 
wondered before the gates of Nineveh. I had to sound 
the knell of the old order; of your honors, of your 
faiths, of ... of altruism, if you like. Well, it has 
sounded, 

(p. 209) 

The resemblance of this narrative structure to favorite myths 
and recurring situations typical of modern science fiction, par- 
ticularly that dark, sociological, near-future science fiction of 
Kurt Vonnegut, should be readily apparent. Ethical man will be 
destroyed by a malignant alien, that alien being his own future 



self, should trends logically extrapolated from the management of 
modern democracies as they existed in 1899 be extended into the 
future. To tell such a tale in a convincingly realistic fictional 
mode, the co-authors were inmed lately confronted with a number of 
narrative problems. They had hoped to create a ”new novel*' with 
The Inheritors . one that would revolutionize British creative 
practices. Besides taking a remarkable leap into the thought 
structure of future sociological science fictionists, the collabo- 
rators had chosen to break with traditional literary forms which 
had begun to show their exhaustion by the turn of the century. 
Certainly in one sense. The Inheritors is a satire on the melodra- 
matic art of its time, particularly that kind of art which gives a 
false sense of life's continuity, purpose, and tidy morality. To 
this end, the authors constructed a book with no real "heroes" and 
no real "plot." Like Brecht, they suggest through episodic struc- 
ture and stream-of-consciousness first-person narration that life 
for the majority of men is a mystery before which they only wait, 
acted upon by those in power, until it is time for them to play. 

The novel also had the more tangible purpose of scorning by satire 
those political novels backing an imperialist position that were 
taking the British public by storm in the 1890' s. To the authors, 
Kipling's and Henley's illusion of optimistic social progress could 
not be destroyed directly; it could only be undermined by indirect 
means. The way lay in confronting that audience with the absurdity 
of its behavior by skillfully blending farce, melodrama, and fan- 
tasy into an "extravagant" parody of the popular adventure-romance 
formula and the plans of very real nineteenth century philanthro- 
pists and financiers.^ 

Of course, the English public neither understood nor appreci- 
ated this attack on their leaders and their popular literature. 

But, if the co-authors were unable to realize their aim of changing 
nineteenth century creative practices, they were able to create a 
distinctively modern-looking fiction. In the course of long dis- 
cussions concerning techniques of representing human behavior in a 
novel of future time, the collaborators did manage to achieve a 
number of creative solutions to their stylistic and artistic prob- 
lems, In place of the fully externalized description, uninterrupted 
flow of natural causality and chronology, free authorial commentary, 
unmistakable meanings, and revelatory dialogue of representative 
Victorian fiction, they created a new sort of novel characterized 
by vagueness, an elaqtic-time-frame which expands and contracts 
with the emotional state of its narrator, the suggest ivity of fan- 
tasy and symbol, and multiplicity of meaning. They managed to 
create a fiction dealing with man's response to technical change 
and urbanization in a new genre that was neither discursive argu- 
ment, allegory, fantasy, nor dream. They created a style appropri- 
ate to that genre, a narrative filtered through the limited con- 
sciousness of a man groping to be part of the future yet torn by 
sense of loss of the simpler life-style, the simpler faiths of pre- 
modern man. Their protagonist has been locked in his subjectivity; 
he interprets the acts of others by inference not by understanding 
their purposes or consequences. He exists in a world without 
"sense," if sense implies an understanding of causality and the 

32 



continuity of action. Like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, he struggles 
in a sort of limbo, no longer able to act as an individual, but 
acted upon by powers whose objectives are unknown to him. Only at 
the moment of his betrayal of Churchill can he be said to act; but 
upon reflecting on that act, he cannot determine whether it was 
made on a whim or on request by the Inheritors, or simply because 
his companion at the time was intoxicated and depressed. 

This alienated, irrational nature of human action is reflected 
in Granger's language. Dialogue throughout the novel is reduced to 
half- formed, impressionistic utterances shot back and forth between 
characters who themselves answer incompletely, their sentences 
trailing off into ellipses. A new style, suggesting grave break- 
down of human communication in an alienating, futuristic world, is 
shaped in the novel, characterized by systematic abandonment of 
rational discursive thought processes on the part of its protago- 
nist. In their "Dimen sionists," the authors captured the frightful 
uncertainty that the modern, despite all his tools for penetrating 
and harnassing nature, must live before--that he is part of a great- 
er "game plan"- -but the object of the game he does not know. The 
individual waits, impotent, obscure, locked into his subjective 
impressions, for his turn as an active participant in social af- 
fairs. Manipulated by those whose special skill is to replace 
truth with illusions that serve their own ends, the modern man 
waits to become a servant to a demagogue. In The Inheritors one 
glimpses only the veneer of civilization, a form i^ich thinly dis- 
guises selfishness, violence, egotism, and aggression, empty of 
the content of belief and faith, the romantic illusions, which once 
masked egotism, aggression, and greed. 

In The Inheritors , then, a method of storytelling has been 
created to reflect a symptom of confusion and helplnessness ; an 
imaginary action has been structured to express the co-authors* 
sense of the decline of a world power and entrance into a future 
where the value of the individual would give way before mass value. 
In our own time of governmental scandal and the rise of cool, ruth- 
lessly efficient political entrepreneurs vdio feel themselves freed 
of the strictures of traditional ethics and who are masters of 
exploitation, particularly through misuse of the power of the media 
and the arts. The Inheritors , the forgotten novel, the innovative 
novel which was never taken seriously, perhaps better than Orwell's 
1984 . makes us look with horror and despair at what was prophesied 
we would become--at what we are. 


Notes 

^I am indebted for this insight into eighteeneth century origins of 
science fiction to Robin Scott Wilson's introduction to Wonder- 
makers (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1972), 
pp. 9-14. 


33 


2 

All subsequent references to The Inheritors will be noted in parenr 
theses in the body of this text and are taken from Joseph Con- 
rad and Ford Madox Hueffer, The Inheritors ^ An Extravagant 
Story (New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1901). The epigraph 
appears on the title page of this text. 

3 

Borrowing between Conrad and Wells was reciprocal rather than one- 
sided, Wells, in his 1899 revision of the earlier serialized 
version of When The Sleeper Wakes (1898), added a reference to 
Conrad's '*Heart of Darkness" as a novel still read in his 
twenty- second century, 

^Following his return from Scotland, Conrad had immediately written 
his publisher's reader of his interest in the literary impli- 
cations of such a machine. See Edward Garnett (ed.). Letters 
from Joseph Conrad , 1895-1924 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 
1928), pp. 136-137. 

^That Conrad passed the idea on to Ford is a contention supported 
by C, T. Watts in "Joseph Conrad, Dr. MacIntyre and The In - 
heritors ." Notes and Queries . 212 (July 1967), 245-248. 

^Ford Madox Ford clearly outlined the process of the novel’s crea- 
tion, suggesting that because Conrad was too ill to sit, he 
had done the writing; A Conrad Memorial Library , from the 
Collection of George T, Keating (New York: Doubleday, Page, 

6c Co., 1929), p. 77. 

^A survey of critical opinions concerning The Inheritors from the 

date of its publication to 1971 may be found in my unpublished 
dissertation The Re luctant Tories : A Study of the Creation and 
Influence of "The Inheritors " by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox 
Hueffer (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1971). 

o 

The novel is subtitled "An Extravagant Story," Considered as a 
roman £ clef , the novel seems to have been targeted on Cecil 
Rhodes, Joseph Chamberlain, and King Leopold of Belgium, who 
appear as the "villains" De Mersch, Gurnard, and Halderschrot . 


Indiana State University 
Terre Haute, Indiana 47601 


34 


SF: The Literature 
of Possibility 

Ronald Munson 

Science fiction is frequently described as "the literature 
of possibility."^ Possible worlds, societies, occurrences, and 
inventions serve as contexts within which science fiction de* 
velops its characters and themes. Unquestionably, the explora- 
tion and working out of certain initially assumed possibilities 
is one of the features that gives science fiction much of its 
fascination and marks it as a distinctive type of literature. 

All fiction, of course, is committed to the exploration of 
possibilities. Rabbit Angstrom in John Updike's Rabbit Redux or 
Emma in Jane Austen's eponymous novel are described as having 
experiences, holding beliefs, and acting in certain ways that 
might actually be true of someone not a fictional character. 

Each situation described to us by the author is one we recognize 
as a possible state of affairs, as a situation in which someone 
might well find himself. 

A characteristic of science fiction not shared by any other 
fictional type is that the possibility it deals with is not open 
to restriction by the actual. The only possibilities open to 
other types of fiction — including historical fiction--are those 
that closely conform to actual states of affairs. That which is 
actual is also possible, and most fiction explores possibilities 
only by modeling its described circumstances and characters upon 
the actual. I do not mean, of course, that most works of fiction 
are romans a clef or are based upon particular events or the ex- 
periences of definite people. I mean only that the t3^es of 
situations dealt with are fundamentally familiar ones. Unlike 
Graham Greene's protagonist in Brighton Rock . I have never been 
pursued by someone wanting to kill me. I know, however, that 
such things have happened, and to an extent, the circumstances 
are ones familiar to me. 

There are legitimate reasons why fiction should concern it- 
self with possibilities that closely resemble the experiences 
that people have had in situations of a generally familiar sort. 
Such an approach, for one thing, puts the reader in a position to 
understand "from the inside" the forces that move men to act and 
the factors that can shape their characters. It permits, further- 
more, a sense of recognition which can inform him about himself. 
There is, perhaps, no reason in principle why science fiction 
should not accomplish the same ends, but as a matter of fact, it 
is "the literature of actuality" which has more frequently achieved 
them. This may well have to do with the modeling of its pos- 
sibilities upon the real or actual. 

35 



Science fiction is not limited by the actual, but can de- 
scribe and employ for fictional purposes any logically possible 
situation or state of affairs. By "logically possible situation" 

I mean simply one that is not self-contradictory. No literature 
can depict a state of affairs in which, for example, an object is 
both a square and a circle at exactly the same time, or one in 
which a person is both literally an adult and literally a child 
at the same instant. It is not merely unlikely or implausible 
that such states should exist, but it is impossible that they 
should. A piece of fiction that asserted their existence would 
be logically incoherent. 

Even this boundary is not an absolutely inflexible one, at 
least not in a certain sense. Contradiction is not always easy 
to detect, and careful science fiction writers often work hard 
to conceal the contradictions implicit in the situations they 
present. The authors of works dealing with time- travel, for 
example, such as Isaac Asimov in The End of Eternity and Robert 
Heinlein in The Door into Summer . must come to grips with the 
problem of temporal paradoxes--contradictions — that destroy plau- 
sibility and produce incoherence. The point I want to stress 
with this example is that even when the requirement that the 
world depicted be a logically possible one is violated, a science 
fiction author is generally under an obligation to disguise this 
fact from his reader or to make a show of explaining away the 
contradiction . 

That science fiction should have available to it all possible 
(i.e. non-contradictory) worlds has often been regarded as too 
liberal an allowance. Some have even argued that to be "real" or 
"true" science fiction, stories must be based upon established 
scientific theories. This was apparently the view of Hugo Gerns- 
back; and Ralph 124C41+ , though a terribly dull and insipid book, 
is a classic example of science fiction conceived of in this way. 
Heinlein* s The Moon Is ^ Harsh Mistress and Arthur C. Clarke *s 
The Sands of Mars are representative cases of fundamentally the 
same approach taken by better writers. John W. Campbell *s As - 
tound ing/Ana log "school" has supplied the most prominent instances 
of this approach, of course. 

The type of possibility involved in this conception of sci- 
ence fiction may be called "technological possibility." The pos- 
sibilities that are considered most important or, at least, most 
worthy of attention are those that can plausibly be regarded as 
future developments of existing engineering techniques, the crea- 
tion of a new technology similar to present technologies, or the 
application of accepted scientific generalizations to new and un- 
familiar cases. Most so-called **hard” science fiction satisfies 
this description and achieves its results by working within this 
self-imposed limitation. 

The term ’’technological possibility" is not a particularly 
happy one, for there is another form of extrapolation that is not 
so closely tied to explicit scientific theories as is hard science 
fiction, I have in mind the projection of future societies or 

36 


social situations in works like Harry Harrison's Make Room ! Make 
Room!, David Karp's and Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's 

The Space Merchants . (Though this approach has a long history, 
it is associated in more recent times with the Galaxy ’'school** of 
the 1950*s.) Such "social** science fiction, however, employs the 
same basic notion of possibility as hard science fiction. The 
source of possibilities, the basis of extrapolation, is located 
in social trends or tendencies. These are, in effect, implicit 
generalizations about the direction in which a society is moving 
or about how people would behave under certain assumed conditions. 
These implicit generalizations are thus analogous to the scientific 
and engineering generalizations that form the basis for hard sci- 
ence fiction, and social science fiction can legitimately be said 
to be concerned with technological possibility, if this term is 
construed broadly. (One could say that social science fiction is 
concerned with "sociological possibility," but since I consider 
this to be fundamentally the same as technological possibility, 

I prefer to use a single term to refer to both.) 

Clearly, both hard and social science fiction are only ideal 
types, in Max Weber's sense of that phrase. The two are rarely 
found in a pure form, though the latter is more likely than the 
former. The reason for this is simply that fiction is about 
people (or at least creatures), and no matter how much stress is 
placed upon scientific and engineering factors, social relations 
must also be represented. Social science fiction, on the contrary, 
does not require an exploration of engineering possibilities; it 
may, in fact, be concerned with a situation in which engineering 
technology has declined or been destroyed. This is the case, for 
example, in Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow and in several of 
John Christopher's novels. 

The view that technological possibility, in the way I have 
interpreted it, is or ought to be the primary concern of science 
fiction has a negative application. Strictly speaking, it rules 
out as illegitimate any fictional situation in which confirmed or 
accepted scientific generalizations are violated. It is not 
logically absurd--that is, not self-contradictory — that Mars should 
be the sort of planet described by Ray Bradbury in The Martian 
Chronicles . As a matter of fact , however, it is known that Mars 
does- not have trees and grass, softly flowing rivers, and a breath-r 
able atmosphere. Mars is much more like the planet described in 
Clarke's The Sands of Mars . Thus it can be--and has been- -argued 
that The Martian Chronicles is not science fiction at all.^ To 
most people, of course, this work is a paradigm case of science 
fiction, and the contrary view can be understood only when it is 
recognized that a belief about what type of possibility is legiti- 
mate for science fiction to exploit underlies it. 

The belief that technological possibility is the sole type 
available for "real" or "true" science fiction can serve as a 
criterion for ruling out fantasy as a type of science fiction. 

We have well-substantiated scientific grounds for rejecting as 
non-existent magical swords, elves, gnomes, and fabulous monsters. 
Yet as a criterion this would be too strong, for not all of what 

37 


is generally regarded as science fiction can reasonably be said 
to be committed only to the development of technological possi- 
bilities . 

Much of science fiction, in fact, depicts what is in prin- 
ciple impossible. Something is impossible in principle if it 
involves a violation of a fundamental and we 11 -confirmed sci- 
entific theory. For example, faster- than-light travel, as in 
Heinlein’s Time for the Stars , is not something we can hope to 
accomplish merely by working hard to improve our technology , It 
is a notion that violates a basic principle of general relativity, 
one of our two absolutely fundamental physical theories • Similar- 
ly, that a person or thing should be a reversible process and run 
backward in time violates no basic theory, but that something 
should move outside of time, as in Asimov's The End of Eternity , 
does involve a violation. Both of these notions, however, though 
impossible in principle, are not logically impossible, at least 
not clearly so. 

It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that science fic- 
tion writers and readers display a curiously ambivalent attitude 
toward impossibility in principle. Most look with scorn on older 
works in which, for example, it is discovered that atoms are tiny 
universes inhabited by people very like ourselves. It is impos- 
sible in principle that this should be so--it violates the basic 
principles of quantum mechanics- -and is regarded by many with dis- 
dain. Yet faster-than-light travel is tolerated. Exactly why one 
is and the other is not, I do not profess to know. I would guess, 
however, that it is because the notion of moving faster than the 
speed of light does not violate any of our ordinary intuitions (in 
fact, it is the scientific principle that violates our intuitions), 
whereas the idea that there should be atomic universes similar to 
our own does jar upon our feelings of rightness. 

The possibility that is the concern of science fiction as a 
whole, then, is logical possibility- -worlds of non-contradiction. 
Hard and social science fiction restrict themselves to techno- 
logical possibility, but there are many other legitimate instances 
of science fiction in \diich this restriction is not observed. Only 
logical possibility is sufficiently broad to be regarded as the 
sort employed by science fiction in general, in all of its instan- 
ces. This means also that when there is a danger that a contradic- 
tion will be blatant, then the science fiction writer is implicitly 
committed to counterfeiting consistency, that is, logical possi- 
bility.'^ This is what we mi^t expect of a literature committed 
to the examination of logical possibility, and this is what we 
find in fact. 

The examination of logical possibility as actualized is, in 
ray opinion, not only a distinctive feature of science fiction, but 
constitutes one of its basic values as a fictional type. This 
claim could be substantiated in a variety of ways, but I shall con- 
sider only the single case of the importance of science fiction in 
raising moral, and conceptual questions that cannot otherwise be 
raised in a dramatized f ictionalized form. I shall further restrict 

38 


myself to but one example of this ability* 

One of the features that sets literature apart from mere 
storytelling is that literature always possesses a moral dimen- 
sion. Characters are placed in situations in which they make 
decisions, and this need for deciding is important in two ways. 
Most obviously, decisions reveal character, and an author gets 
us to see what a person is like by portraying his actions in 
decisive situations. At the same time, however, the author 
raises the general moral problem, ”How ought one to act in such 
a situation?" His attitude toward the character who makes the 
decision may supply a partial answer to this question, and it is 
a rare author who does not at least hint at what he considers 
the proper response in the circumstances described. The moral 
issue is one that extends beyond the work, so to speak, and leaves 
the reader puzzled or pensive. Even though the author indicates 
where his own beliefs lie, we are still left to wonder whether or 
not the action was indeed the ri^t one. Literature thus always 
has a surplus content, one that overflows the limits of the story. 

Within its very broad limits of logical possibility, science 
fiction can present as real any imaginable situation. This in- 
herent freedom allows it to deal with certain sorts of moral 
issues that cannot be handled by any other fictional form. To show 
how this is so, I shall employ the one example I have allowed my- 
self. 


Consider this question- -Do we have moral obligations to an- 
droids? This is the basic moral issue in Philip K, Dick's Do 
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? , and of course it appears in 
numerous other android and robot stories,^ It migiht be thought 
initially that this question is an insignificant one, that it is 
a mere story device that Dick employs to good effect. There are, 
after all, no androids, so why should we worry about whether we 
have moral obligations to them or not? 

Such an attitude would be mistaken, for one of the things 
we want to know about our moral concepts is the conditions of 
their applicability. What characteristics must something — any- 
thing--have in order to require of us moral behavior? If an- 
droids possess such features, then it is as wrong to kill them 
as it is to kill human beings. We can determine whether or not 
androids possess these features only xdien we know what the fea- 
tures are, Dick's novel thus generates a context--a possible 
world--in which we are forced to come to grips with fundamental 
philosophical issues about our moral concepts. 

Nor is this problem an "empty" philosophical one. Only by 
making explicit conditions for being an object of moral treatment 
in logically possible cases can we subject such conditions to 
critical scrutiny and so be prepared to make decisions in new, 
unusual, or unanticipated cases. Recall that the actual is just 
the possible realized. There are few, if any, people around to- 
day who would claim that Blacks, Jews, and Indians are not proper 
objects of moral treatment, though in the past such a position 

39 


has been taken more than once. The way in which we decide the 
issue about conditions has consequences for our treatment of 
higher organisms right now and for our future treatment of, say, 
cyborgs or certain products of genetic engineering. 

This problem of making conditions for moral treatment ex- 
plicit is representative of a class of philosophical problems 
that can be generated in a concrete and dramatic way only in a 
literature that is free to investigate logically possible situa- 
tions. The literature of actuality cannot raise questions of 
this sort because of its inherent restriction to generally famil- 
iar experience. This means that science fiction or, to use what 
is now considered the more inclusive term, speculative fiction is 
the only agency that can present with literary force certain basic 
philosophical issues. Such issues are generated as part of the 
surplus content of science fiction, as part of its overflow from 
a literary form into life. It is this capability that transforms 
science fiction’s concern with the possible into a primary and 
unique literary value. 


Notes 

^See, for example, Robert A. Heinlein’s discussion in "Science 
Fiction: Its Nature, Faults, and Virtues," in The Science 
Fiction Novel , 2nd ed. rev. (Chicago: Advent Publishers, 

1964), pp. 23-25. 

2 

This is the position taken by Damon Knight in his criticism of 
Bradbury in la Search of Wonder , 2nd ed. enlarged (Chicago: 
Advent Publishers, 1967). For an appreciation of some of 
Bradbury’s virtues, see William Atheling, Jr. (pseud, of 
James Blish), The Issue at Hand (Chicago; Advent, 1964), 
pp. 76-78 and passim . 

3 

It is no part of my purpose to distinguish between science fic- 
tion and fantasy, but I do wish to point out that both genres 
take logical possibility as their province. It is, in part, 
for this reason that the problem of dividing the two in any 
non-arbitrary way has proved to be so intractable. Only for 
hard and social science fiction can a sharp separation be 
made, and as I have pointed out, this is just because they 
employ the more restricted notion of possibility. Separation 
along this line has the unhappy consequence of counting as 
fantasy much of what has traditionally been considered sci- 
ence fiction, I shall simply assert, and not argue, that the 
only way to distinguish the two genres in a satisfactory way 
is to rely upo n groups of features characteristic of each 
and to recognize that there are some features that belong in 
both groups. 

A 

For example, Clifford D. Simak’s Time and Again and Robert Silver- 
berg’s The Tower of Glass . 


40 


Writers often have a more specific reason for focusing on an- 
droids and robots; namely, they wish to force us to see the 
immoral ways in which we have often treated minority groups. 
Since we have had no experiences with androids and have few 
if any prejudices about them, we can more easily recognize 
what is done to them as morally repugnant. This approach 
requires that the author make it clear to the reader that 
the androids should be regarded as objects of moral concern. 

6 

Walter M. Miller's "Conditionally Human" and Robert Heinlein's 
"Jerry Is a Man" raise basically the same question about our 
moral concepts, though in connection with biological, as 
distinct from "mechanical," organisms. 


University of Missouri 
St. Louis, Missouri 63121 


41 


The Bibliographic Control of 
Science Fiction* 


H. W. Hall 

In every era since printing began, men have dreamed of univer- 
sal bibliographies which would record all books in existence* Like- 
wise, whenever a subject field has developed, its practitioners soon 
realize the need for adequate--if not universal — coverage of its 
literature. Even while recognizing the value of bibliographic con- 
trol, most scholars regard bibliography as "a necessary nuisance 
and a horrible drudgery that no mere drudge could perform. It takes 
a sort of inspired idiot to be a good bibliographer."^ Science 
fiction is at the point of needing a few more "inspired idiots" to 
integrate and complete the myriad bibliographic efforts already 
available. In fact, one might almost say the field is "bibliography 
poor" due to the tremendous number of bibliographic efforts turned 
out by fans over the years. 

By and large, the bibliographic efforts of fans fall into the 
general category of systematic bibliography; that is, the study of 
books as ideas, rather than analytical bibliography- -the study of 
books as physical objects. Virtually no analytical bibliography 
exists in the field of science fiction. Only three items come to 
mind which verge on analytical bibliography: Geoffrey H. Wells *s A 
Bibliography of H. G. Wells . 1893-1925 (London: 1925; New York: 

Burt Franklin, 1968); August Derleth*s ^irty Years of Arkham House . 
1939-1969 (Sauk City: Arkham House, 1970); and Henry Hardy Heins ’s 
A Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs (West 
Kingston, R. I.: Donald M. Grant, 1964). Undoubtedly there are 
other bibliographies of this caliber, but the fact remains that 
this is a virtually untapped aspect of the bibliography of science 
fiction. 

The fact that analytical bibliography does not yet exist for 
the field does not necessarily indicate a great lack when the 
relative age of the genre is taken into account. SF has existed as 
a distinct genre only since the 1920*s, when Hugo Gernsback capi- 
talized on the existing interest, and as a genre of scholarly 
interest for a much shorter period. To date this last interest is 


*This paper was presented at the annual SFRA meeting held at 
Pennsylvania State University, September 14-17, 1973. 


42 



difficult, but, as some date the age of sf from the birth of 

Storie s > I suggest the scholarly interest in sf dates from 
the first issue of Extrapolation . At any rate, whenever we date 
the beginning of the scholarly "respectability'* of sf, it is quite 
recent. As a result, there has been little scholarly need for the 
extensive, detailed studies of specific works. Rather, the need 
has been, and still is, for systematic bibliographies. Olie de- 
tailed, analytical bibliographies come later, after preliminary 
identification of the works of an author. For the remainder of 
this paper, we will concern ourselves with the state of systematic 
bibliography, and the directions the systematic bibliography of sf 
needs to develop. 

As was implied earlier, there has been a tremendous amount of 
bibliographic work done in the field of sf. A preliminary bibli- 
ography of sf bibliographies has been compiled by Robert E. Briney 
and Edward Wood, titled SF Bibliographies (Chicago: Advent, 1972), 
and another similar listing has been announced by Mirage Press. 

While the value of many of the works is beyond question, the major- 
ity of them have one great fault--they are virtually unobtainable. 
The researcher who needs to see the Ray Bradbury Review , the Heins 
bibliography, or the Robert E. Howard Fantasy Blblio is fortunate 
indeed if he is able to obtain copies for use. This flaw is in- 
herent in the method of publication — limited editions, privately 
distributed, with little circulation to libraries. Whatever the 
reason, these potentially valuable works are rendered useless by 
unavailability. Consideration should be given to reprinting a 
number of these bibliographies, with particular emphasis on placing 
them in libraries. 

At this point in time the basic bibliographical reference set 
for sf and fantasy consists of several independent works, although 
these may be superseded by one or more of several works in progress. 
The basic volumes are still Bleiler's The Checklist of Fantastic 
Literature (Chicago: Shasta, 1948; reprinted Naperville, 111.: 

Fax, 1972), and the two items which update it. Day's Supplemental 
Checklist of Fantastic Literature (Denver, N, Y.: Science Fiction 
and Fantasy Publications, 1963) and his Checklist of Fantastic 
Literature in Paperbound Books (Denver, N. Y,: Science Fiction and 
Fantasy Publications, 1965). These three items give coverage to 
books through 1964. There exists a gap of four years, to 1968, 
when Joanne Burger began issuing her annual bibliography, SF Pub - 
lished In . . , (Lake Jackson, Tx.: The Author, 1969- ). Also, 

from 1969, Luna Monthly has covered the field in their new book 
listings. Coverage of the magazines is given by Donald Day's Index 
To The Science Fiction Magazines . 1926-1950 (Portland: Perri Press, 
1952), Straus's Index To The S-F Magazines . 1951-1965 (Cambridge, 
Mass.: The Author, 1965), and to the New England Science Fiction 
Association indexes. Index To The Science Fiction Magazines 1966 - 
1970 (Cambridge, Mass.: NESFA, 1971) and The NESFA Index . 1971 & 
1972 (Cambridge, Mass.: NESFA, 1973). The latter will be continued 
by annual volumes covering both magazines and original anthology 
series. Also available is Metcalf's Index To The Science Fiction 
Magazines , 1951-1965. published by J. Ben Stark (El Cerrito, Ca,: 

43 


J. Ben Stark, 1968). Some question exists about this item, since 
Metcalf has publicly denounced it as being in error due to editorial 
decisions. Completing the basic reference set are I. F. Clarke’s 
The Tale of the Future (2d ed., London; The Library Association, 

1972) and two indexes to anthologies. Cole’s Checklist of Science 
Fiction Anthologies (Brooklyn; The Author, 1964) and Siemon’s 
Science Fiction Story Index , 1950-1968 (Chicago; ALA, 1971). 

Some excellent bibliographies also exist for single authors. 

1*11 single out only three items for mention here, Marjorie Miller’s 
Isaac Asimov ; A Checklist of Works Published In The United States , 
March 1939 - Mav 1972 (Kent, Ohio; Kent State University Press, 1972) 
offers a chronological listing of the output of this prolific author 
from 1939 to May 1972. It includes a section on "Criticism and 
Works about Asimov," and a title index. The second item is Leslie 
Swigart*s Harlan Ellison ; A Bibliographical Checklist (Los Angeles: 
The Author, 1973), perhaps one of the most comprehensive author bib- 
liographies available. This, too, is a chronological listing within 
such sections as "Books," "Scripts," "Reviews," It also stands as a 
most complete work in terms of data provided. For example, for 
books, the following data will be found (often with a photo of the 
cover of the book); Publication data (i.d., "First Publication," 
"Second Printing," etc.); Title; Place; Publisher; Copyright date; 
Pagination (both numbered and unnumbered); Size; Publisher's iden- 
tification number; Price; Additional printings of that specific 
item; Contents notes ; Foreign editions ; Notes on editorial changes ; 
and Manuscript title. The bibliography also avoids a fault of most 
single author bibliographies of sf writers--it includes all of 
Ellison's work, not just his sf. The final item 1*11 mention of 
this category is Mark Owing's Robert A. He ini e in ; A Bibliography 
(Boston: Creation House, 1973), the first of a series of biblio- 
graphical pamphlets by Owings. These are updatings of his "Electric 
Bibliograph" material from WSFA Journal and are valuable checklists, 
though far from as comprehensive or detailed as Ms. Swigart's work. 
Here, too, data is given on reprints, reissues, and stories expanded 
into novels. This series is a must for libraries or serious scholars 
and collectors. 

There are, however, some comments which should be made about 
these efforts. Valuable though they are, many exhibit flaws which 
could easily have been corrected. One major flaw in individual 
author bibliographies might be called provincialism. In case after 
case, the sf and fantasy works of an author are noted, but the rest 
of his output — general fiction, nonfiction--is excluded. While this 
is sufficient for the person whose only interest is sf, it is in- 
adequate for both the collector and the scholar, both of whom are 
interested in the total output of the writer rather than only one 
aspect of it. Sad to say, this practice continues to be used, even 
by the foremost sf bibliographers. Another point worth mentioning 
is that of technique. The bibliographer should take the trouble to 
learn at least the basics of bibliographical work. No bibliography 
should be issued with only place of publication and date (as some 
have). Likewise, the publisher's identification number, valuable 
though it may be, should not replace place, publisher, and date. It 

44 


requires only a few minutes more to provide full bibliographic de- 
tail, but it increases the value of the finished work immeasurably* 

What I have just said refers to primary bibliographies of sf, 
the access points to specific authors and their works* Another as- 
pect of the bibliography of sf is the secondary bibliography, which 
gives access to articles about sf or about specific authors. As 
with analytical bibliography, little has been done in this area. In 
fact only four items come to mind. Two of these deal with access 
to book reviews: Barry McGhan's Index To Science Fiction Book Re - 
views * Astound ing /Analog 1949-1969 ; Fantasy and Science Fiction 
1^9^49-1969 ; Galaxy 1950-1969 (Bryan, Tx.: Science Fiction Research 
Association, 1973) and H* W. Hall's Science Fiction Book Review 
Index 19T0 - (Bryan, Tx.: The Author, 1971- ). McGhan's Index 

provides access to book reviews in the three magazines covered, but 
excludes short notices and publication notes. Hall's Index provides 
access to book reviews in all the existing science fiction magazines 
selected fanzines, general circulation magazines such as National 
Review and The New York Times Book Review , and special interest 
magazines, such as Horn Book . Library Journal , and Publisher ' s 
Weekly . A third item is the "Have You Read" column in Luna Monthly . 
This gives the most nearly current coverage of articles as they ate 
published, and serves a valuable need. While the Luna listing is 
quite good, a more detailed listing would be of value. The final 
item is Tom Clareson's Science Fiction Criticism ; An Annotated 
Checklist (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1972). This 
was the pioneering work in secondary bibliography, and serves as a 
valuable tool. It could have been more valuable with the addition 
of two further indexes. The first would have been simple- -a title 
index to articles. The second is more dif ficult--an expansion of 
the "Index of Authors Mentioned" to a complete subject index. 

On the foreign scene, little work has been done, or at least 
little material is available here. Currently, there are three items 
which are of value. Franz Rottensteiner 's "Literatur Hber Science 
Fiction, Fine Auswahlbibliographie" in Eike Barmeyer's Science Fic - 
tion ; Theorle Und Geschichte (MHnchen: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1972) 
is the best general listing currently available and covers the entire 
European scene. Darko Suvin's Russian Science Fiction Literature 
and Criticism 1956-1970 ; A Bibliography (Toronto: Secondary Uni- 
verse 4, 1971) covers a more limited topic, but is of great value 
for the student of Russian sf. Also covering the Russian scene is 
Stephen T, Kerr's A Bibliographical Guide to Soviet Fantasy and 
Science Fiction . 1957-1968 (New York: The Author, 1969). This bib- 
liography has sections on criticism and bibliography in addition to 
its coverage of fiction. 

This has been an admittedly brief survey of available biblio- 
graphic material. Many important areas and titles are left un- 
mentioned in the interest of time and space. Now I'd like to turn 
to the future — to the needs of the field of sf bibliography, both 
primary and secondary. 


The first — and greatest — need is that of an acceptable defini- 

45 


tion of what we are dealing with. It has been said there are as 
many definitions of sf as there are people interested in it (which 
tallies with the description of sf fandom as a “benevolent anarchy*)* 
The fact remains that without a widely accepted definition of the 
field, no progress can be made toward comprehensive bibliography. 
1*11 hasten to add that I have no definition to offer--my excuse 
being that it is outside the scope of this paper. At any rate, on 
to the bibliographic needs of the field. 

A major need--should the problem of definition be resolved — is 
for a single basic source of bibliographic data covering sf writing 
from the beginning to the current material. This would be a monu- 
mental task, as it would include all the material in Bleiler and the 
two Day books, all the additional material in Clarke *s The Tale of 
The Future , the bibliography in the Ferret Fantasy Christmas Annual 
(London: Ferret Fantasy, 1973), and other sources. Attempts at 
this have been made and may be progressing. Dale Mullen has been 
at work on SFE ; Science Fiction in English . Preliminary material I 
have seen indicates this would be an exceptionally valuable piece 
of scholarship, if it can be brought to completion. Larry W. 
Sarner's ^ Bibliography (New York: Bowker, 1973) is announced as 
listing **28,000 novels and short stories published in the field 
since 1772,“ The recent announcement by Fax Collectors Editions 
of four checklists which will supplement the Bleiler Checklist 
should improve the situation. The four checklists cover American 
hardbacks, 1947-1972; American paperbacks, 1947-1972, both compiled 
by Joanne Burger; British hard cover books; and British paperbacks, 
both compiled by Ken Slater, Mention should also be made of Rob 
Reginald's Cumulative Paperback Index , 1939-1969 (Ann Arbor: Gale, 
1973), covering some 14,000 paperback books, and of his Stella Nova ; 
The Contemporary Science Fiction Author s (Los Angeles: Unicorn, 

1970) , containing biographical and bibliographical notes about 
contemporary authors. 

Still another need in primary bibliography is a broad-based 
index to anthologies and collections. As I mentioned, two such in- 
dexes exist: Cole’s Checklist of Science Fiction Anthologies and 
Siemon's Science Fiction Story Index . Cole is the better work of 
the two, though one wishes that the typography of the S lemon Index 
was equalled by Cole. Both share the same weaknesses: coverage is 
too limited to be of general value. The index which is needed to 
this material should cover at least 90-95 percent of the anthologies 
and collections (both original and reprint) which have appeared, 
including both hardcover and paperback books. This might have to 
cover only through 1970, depending on how thorough NESFA is with 
their expanded indexing coverage, which now includes anthologies. 

Still another need is for more and better single author bib- 
liographies, and for such bibliographies to be widely distributed. 
Speaking to this point, Robert Galbreath commented, “It is startling 
to realize that there seem to be no comprehensive bibliographies 
for Clarke, Bradbury, Dunsany, Cabell, Algernon Blackwood, and the 
strangely neglected (by scholars only) Andre Norton.**^ To meet the 
needs of scholarship, such bibliographies must be inclusive and 


46 


present a record of the entire output of a writer. To limit this 
type of bibliography to only sf does a disservice to both the user 
and to the writer. In addition, the work should include all pos- 
sible data (within the limits of time and material available) and 
should follow some standard bibliographic format. In fact, it 
might be appropriate for SFRA to develop a standard bibliographic 
format for sf and distribute it widely to fans, to improve the 
quality of the bibliographic work being done. 

Moving now to secondary works, 1*11 note again Tom Clareson's 
Science Fiction Criticism . This is one of the few works of its 
type. Valuable though it is, much more work needs to be done in 
the field. The most pressing need is for an annual updating of SF 
Criticism . This would be an annotated (or abstracted) listing, 
similar to Clareson's original work, including not only the current 
material, but also items from earlier years which might have been 
missed. 

A particular need here is some coverage of the sometimes excel- 
lent articles published in fanzines over the years. The best of 
these articles is on a par with at least 50 percent of the items 
published in "respectable" magazines. Another difficulty rears its 
head here, however, for access to this material varies between im- 
possible and almost impossible; indexing would need to be supple- 
mented with an offprint service or reprints of the articles. 

Such an abstracting service would do well to follow the pattern 
used in the Eric access journals. Research in Education and Current 
Index to Journals in Education . These journals provide access by 
author, title, and subject, including bibliographic data, subject 
descriptors, and an abstract for each entry (Figure 1), The ab- 
stract itself might well be provided by the item's author, using 
a form similar to that used for MLA abstracts (Figure 2). 

To provide the subject access mentioned above is no simple 
task. For subject access to be truly useful, it must be both con- 
sistent and accurate, two conditions which may be met only by 
utilizing an accepted thesaurus or subject heading list. Such a 
subject thesaurus is a need in the sf field, if subject access is 
ever to be a reality. Of course, existing lists could be utilized, 
such as Sears or Library of Congress Subject Headings. They are, 
however, too broad to be of much value in such a limited subject 
area. This topic deserves the close attention of SFRA, with the 
goal of developing an acceptable thesaurus of subject descriptors 
for the field. 

Immediate progress toward subject access could be made by 
utilizing either a Keyword-In-Context (KWIC) or a Keyword -Out -Of - 
Context (KWOC) index to article titles. Admittedly, many titles 
do not lend themselves to this subject approach , for they are written 
to function as headlines rather than informative titles. 

An accurate, reasonably comprehensive bibliography of European 
critical articles is badly needed. These items need to be very well 


47 


ED 067 697 CS 200 195 

Johnson^ Wiltiam^ Ed. 

Focus on Che Science Fiction FUm. 

Pub Date 72 
Note— lg2p. 

Available front'— Pren6ce>Hal!» Inc.. Publishers. 
Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632 (cloth $5.95. 
paper $2.45) 

Dmment Not Available from EDRS. 
Descriptors— Aesthebc Education. * Fantasy. 
^Fiction. Film Production. * Films. Film Study, 
Literary Influences. Literature, Realism, 
*$cience Fiction, ^Sciendftc Concepts. Space. 
Symbols (Literary), Time 
litis volume is comprised of a collection of es> 
says about the origin and development of the 
science fiction film, its relation to other kinds of 
film and to science fiction writing, and its 
aesthetic value. The essays are arranged in four 
groups: **Beginnings; 1895-19408,” “Popular 
Years: The 1950s,” “Taking Stock: Some Issues 
and Answers,” and “Moving On: The 1960s and 
After.” The editor maintains that the science fic- 
tion film has evolved somewhat erratically, shar- 
ing a common origin with other kinds of fantasy 
film and making use of similar content, the same 
technical devices, such as special effects and ar- 
tificial settings, and the same dramatic tones, 
such as horror and surprise. Science fiction films 
hinge on a change or changes in the world as 
known. The changes may be caused by man or 
may be outside his control, but they are intended 
to have a rational explanation. The changes often 
depend on displacements in space or time and on 
changes in man’s environment and in man him- 
self. A chronology juxtaposing developments in 
science with science fiction writing ar^ films, a 
filmography, a bibliography, and an index are in- 
rliided. (Author/Dl) 

A« Book 


ED 054 174 TE 002 576 

Greenlaw, Marilyn Jean 

A Study of the Impact of Technology on Human 
Values as ReflecCed lo Modem Sdena Fiction 
tor Cbihtren. 

Pub Date 70 

Note— 20lp.; Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State 
University 

Available from— University Microfilms, A Xerox 
Company, Dissertation Copies Post Office Box 
1764, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106 (Order No. 
71-1 1,850: MF $4.00. Xerography $10.00) 
Document Not Available from EDRS. 
Descriptors— *Childrens Books, * instructional 
Materials, * Literature. ^Science Fiction. Scien- 
tific Concepts. ‘Values 

The purpose of this study was to establish the 
extent to which children’s science fiction 
reflected adult concern with technology and its 
impact on human values. Two instruments were 
designed. The first measured thematic analysis 
and consisted of six theme categories. The second 
measured content analysis and consisted of three 
value categories: individualism, privacy and 
“others”; and three inclusions of technology: 
nuclear power, automation, and massification of 
society. Analysis of the dau showed that chil- 
dren’s science fiction does include aspects of in- 
dividualism, privacy, nuclear power, automation 
and massiftcation of society. Furthermore. 48% of 
the books read and coded reflected concern with 
technology’s impact on values. Because of the na- 
ture of science fiction, it can be used to develop 
critical thinking and reading, and can be used in 
relation with social studies and the study of histo- 
ry and science. This study established that chil- 
dren’s science fiction is an important and 
respecUble genre of literature. (Author/DB) 

B. Dissertation 


ED 061 201 

Sch^sartz, Sheita 


TE 002 843 


Science- Fiction as Humanistic Studv. 

Pub Dale 7 1 
Note— 7p. 

Journal Cit— English Record; v22 n2 d 49*55 
Winter 197J y 

EDRS Price MF-$0.65 HC-$3.29 
Descriptors — ‘Curriculum Planning, ‘Humanities, 
Interdisciplinary Approach, ‘Literary Genres, 
‘Literature, Novels, ‘Science Fiction 
The future curricula of the humanities are 
discussed in relation to the inclusion of science- 
fiction as an appropriate subject. It is believed 
that the curricula of the future will have the fol- 
lowing characteristics in common: ( 1 ) Although 
curricula will give due recognition to the con- 
tributions of the past, it will begin in the present 
and will focus on the present and future world. 
Emphasis on understanding the present will be es- 
sential for survival; (2) It will be interdisciplinary 
and will cut across or eliminate the narrow sub- 
ject matter compartments into which education is 
now arbitrarily divided. Three science fiction 
books that embody these criteria are discussed. 
(DB) 


Co Journal 


ED 066 753 CS 200 088 

Calkins, Elizabeth McGhan, Barry 
Teaching Tomorrow: A Handbook of Science Fic- 
tion for Teachers. 

Pub Date 72 
Note— 1 lip. 

Available from— Pflaum/Stondard, 38 West Fifth 
Street, Dayton, Ohio 45402 ($2.20) 

Document Not Available from EDRS. 
Descriptors— Booklists, ‘English Instruction, Lite- 
rary Genres. Mass Media, ‘Science Fiction, 
Te^hing Guides 

Science Fiction appeals to young people and is 
suited for use in a wide range of classrooms. This 
handbook of Science Fiction for Teachers sug- 
gests ways of using Science Fiction to teach 
literature and English skills. Study guides based 
on two Science Fiction stories are presented, with 
activities such as individual papers and smalt 
group activitiM suggested, included in the hand- 
book are lists of publishers, professional 
magarines, amateur publications, conventions and 
organizations, and movies. Other compilations are 
Science Fiction for Girls, Critical Works, and an 
extensive list of recommended novels. (RS) 

D. ^fcinograph 


Figure 1. Citations in Eric Access Journal 


48 


Figure 2. MLA Abstract Form 


JOURNAL ABSTRACT FORM - MLA ABSTRACTS SYSTEM 



Please read the Guidelines 
carefully before completing the form 


© 

Author(s) Last Name 

First Name 

Initial 

Professional Address 


© 

Title of Article 


Journal 



V olume 

Issue 

Month Year 

Inclusive pages 





To be filled in by editor - - use Arabic numbers only 


Index Terms 







© 

1. 

2. 



3. 




4. 

5. 



6 . 




7. 

8. 



9. 




Abstract (Type double spaced) 



annotated (or abstracted) to allow better access by the scholarly 
community, and indexed by author, title, and subject. Such a pro- 
ject is in progress, but no completion date has been announced, 

1*11 mention again the Tottensteiner bibliography as the best cur- 
rently available item. 

I have mentioned only a few of the possibilities for improved 
bibliographic control of the field of science fiction. Many other 
areas exist which could be both interesting to bibliographers and 
of value to scholars. For example, additional indexing of the 
science fiction magazines might be of value. Given the interest 
in sf art, and the existence of only two indexes to the work of 
illustrators, an index to illustrations in the magazines might be 
undertaken. Further indexing of book reviews, from 1923 through 
1970 is in progress. There might be real value in an index to the 
letter columns, where so many of the well-known writers were "pub- 
lished" first, A monumental project has been recently suggested, 
that of an annotated index to the fiction in the sf magazines. 

Such an index would be an invaluable research tool for scholars. 
Comprehensive indexes of the non-English language sf magazines would 
be worthwhile, and should include both author and title access to 
stories, articles, and book reviews. Finally, a subject index to 
non-fiction articles and editorials in the sf magazines would be an 
aid to researchers. 

Outside the magazine field, a number of other projects come to 
mind. An annotated listing of theses and dissertations--an almost 
untapped source of scholarship- -is currently in progress, with some 
60 titles identified. A union list of sf materials in libraries 
would be an invaluable aid to researchers without access to private 
collections. Still other possibilities include bibliographies of 
sf in languages other than English, guides to juvenile literature, 
and guides to non-print media, such as TV shows, plays, and other 
graphic presentations. Movies are currently covered by several 
works, the most comprehensive being Walt Lee*s Reference Guide To 
Fantastic Films (Los Angeles: Chelsea -Lee B ooks , 1972- ). De- 

tailed analytical bibliographies of writers no longer active would 
be of interest to some, and should be compiled early, while the 
books are still available for examination. 

These suggestions of needs in the field are the smallest tip 
of an immense iceberg of possibilities. Now it is time for the 
‘‘inspired idiots*‘ of sf to bring these dreams to reality. 


Notes 

’’Elliott Coues, "Dr. Coues ' Column," OSPAEY, 2 (Nov. 1897), 39. 
2 

Robert Galbreath, "An SF Bibliography," Extrapolation , 14 
(Dec. 1972), 68. 

Texas AficM University 
College Station, Texas 77843 

50 



Speculations: 

The Subjunctivity of 
Science Fiction 

Joanna Russ 

I 

At the 1968 meeting of the MLA Seminar, science fiction iter 
Samuel Delany offered a definition of the subjunctivity of prose 
narrative and in so doing constructed a new definition of science 
fiction, perhaps the first to be proposed in several decades: 

"Subjunctivity" (wrote Delany) "is the tension on the 
thread of meaning that runs between word and object. 

[For] a piece of reportage, a blanket indicative tension 
informs the \y^ole series: this happened ... The sub- 
junctivity for a series of words labeled naturalistic 
fiction is defined by: could have happened ... Fantasy 
takes the subjunctivity of naturalistic fiction and 
throws it in reverse . . . could not have happened. And 
immediately [this level of subjunctivity] informs all 
the words in the series... [in] sf the subjunctivity 
level is changed once more... have not happened . 

"Events that have not happened are very different from 
the fictional events that could have happened , or the 
fantastic events that could not have happened . , . 

"Events that have not happened include those events 
that might happen : these are your .. .predictive tales. 

They include events that will not happen ; these are 
your science-fantasy stories. They include events 
that have not happened yet ... there are your cautionary 
dystopias... [They] include past events as well as 
future ones. Events that have not happened in the 
past compose that sf specialty, the parallel-world 
story. 

Delany has here gone beyond the usual concept of science fiction 
as predictive; and what is more useful, he has uncovered a distinc- 
tion between fantasy and science fiction that does not depend on 


*This paper was presented at the third annual meeting of the 
Popular Culture Association in Indianapolis, April 13, 1973. 


51 



estimates of the author's intentions or his scientific accuracy. 

Fantasy, according to the above description, embodies a "nega- 
tive subjunctivity"--*that is, fantasy is fantasy because it contra- 
venes the real and violates it. The actual world is constantly 
implicit in fantasy, by negation. In Delany's words, fantasy is 

could not have happened ; i.e., -what cannot happen, what cannot 
exist. And I would submit that the negative subjunctivity , the 
cannot or could not, constitutes in fact the chief pleasure of 
fantasy. Fantasy violates the real, contravenes it, denies it, 
and insists on this denial throughout. 

Science fiction, however, writes about what has not happened . 
Its connection with actuality, with possibility, is one of its 
chief pleasures. Whenever some scientific or technological advance 
becomes known, sf writers search the literature to find out who 
predicted it and when and how close he got; apparently v^at has not 
happened and what could not have happened (or what cannot happen ) 
are not the same. 

So science fiction concerns itself with what has not happened; 
that is, its subject-matter does not exist. The subject-matter of 
naturalistic fiction is understood to be in some way characteristic 
or typical of what does exist (this could have happened ) ; fantasy is 
understood to bear a reverse relation to what eSxists (this could not 
have happened ) . What is the relation of science fiction to what 
exists? That is, how can one write seriously about non-existent 
subject-matter? I pose this question not in practical terms, for 
readers and writers of science fiction are familiar with practical 
solutions, but as a question of definition and description. Cer- 
tainly many literary critics do not seem able to conceive of fiction 
that neither contravenes reality nor represents it; they usually 
treat science fiction as if it were fantasy and plain and simple. 
Their criticism suffers accordingly. 

II 


What is science fiction? 

Common answers are: 

(1) Prophecy or Extrapolation; 

(2) Allegory ; 

(3) Satire and Utopian Fiction . 

Unfortunately none of these labels will identify more than a 
small minority of the stories in the field. Prophecy or Extrapola - 
tion assumes that science fiction is trying for the subjunctivity 
of reportage (that is, a description of actual events), but that 
science fiction writers work under the extraordinary handicap of 
reporting events that haven't yet happened--so that the story may 
prove to be good reportage (when the event happens) or bad reportage 


(when the event happens at another time than predicted or in another 
way or is proved impossible)# Aside from the difficulty of under- 
standing why such reportage should be presented in short stories 
and novels rather than in straight-forward essay form, a good part 
of the field cannot possibly be covered by the predictive label: 
for example, the dystopia--which the author, by writing about it, 
hopes to prevent- -or any parallel-universe or parallel-past-universe 
story. 


And there is the problem of how to define science fiction that 
has in fact been proved incorrect (almost all the past work in the 
field) --does this fiction become fantasy? Does it become fantasy 
only after it is proved wrong? How many people must know of its 
failure before it can be considered fantasy? And so on. Few read- 
ers or writers of science fiction think consciously and explicitly 
that science fiction is in the prophecy business, but this rather 
simple-minded assumption does persist in back of a good deal of 
criticism of the field. 

Nor does allegory cover the field. If all science fiction is 
allegory, some stories are clearly more allegorical than others. If 
R. A. Lafferty*s Fourth Mansions is allegorical, what is Isaac 
Asimov's 1 , Robot ? If I, Robot is considered allegory, the term 
must be extended to cover all fiction, and if all fiction (or all 
fiction with a clear moral tendency) is allegorical, then the term 
"allegory" becomes useless. 

Many academic critics are comfortable with science fiction that 
is satiric or utopian and uncomfortable with any other kind. There 
remains the fact that a great deal of science fiction (e.g., Samuel 
Delany's Babel - 17 ) has nothing to do with utopian fiction; nor does 
Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination ; nor Ursula LeGuin's The 
. Left Hand of Darkness. These novels are neither satire, utopia, 
dystopia, nor allegory. Nor are they predictive. 

Unfortunately most science fiction that becomes known outside 
the field satiric and/or utopian- -usually a parable of moral or 
political disaster. Dystopias, for whatever reason, are much more 
popular than utopias; we have Brave New World . 1984 . This Perfect 
Day , and so on. Perhaps the popularity of sf satire is due to its 
simplicity: satire proposes or embodies a very simple relation 
between actuality and what has been called "the secondary universe"; 
that is, the fictional universe. Satire directly distorts and 
exaggerates what we all know to be true (straight-line extrapolation 
also tends toward simple exaggeration) for the purposes of explicit 
criticism. The subjunctivity of science fiction satire is that of 
science fiction in general-- this has not happened - -but the relation 
of the strange or bizarre or futuristic matter in the story to 
actuality is very plain. Satire in which this relation is not plain 
is satire without point. 

The question remains: if science fiction can be either alle- 
gorical, predictive, satiric, utopian, or something else - -what is 
the something else? 


53 



Ill 


The willing suspension of disbelief of which Coleridge spoke 
can apply both to fantasy and to "naturalism” (as Delany uses the 
word). Sometimes it*s assumed that a reader has a harder time sus- 
pending his disbelief when he reads fantasy than when he reads fic- 
tion about what could have happened ; in fact, fantasy is probably 
easier not-to-disbelieve. It makes fewer claims to being plausible 
or faithful to actuality (since it could not have happened ) . 

To return to satire, one does not suspend one’s disbelief 
while reading satire--or more accurately, any suspension of dis- 
belief that occurs is a much more complex matter. The keenest 
pleasures of satire may be the moments at which one dis believes-- 
keenly, explicitly, and acutely. Certainly the effect of satire is 
not to convince a reader that the satirically exaggerated is plausi- 
ble, accurate, actual, or like the real. To the contrary, one’s 
reaction is more often: this is ridiculous, this is exaggerated, 
this is impossible. But the material that provokes such a reaction 
is in fact only an exaggeration (if the satire is a good one) of 
what the reader already believes in, for the very good reason that 
it already exists in the actual world . So we come up against a 
peculiar situation in which fictional material is disbelieved be- 
cause it is real or, more accurately, disbelieved only to be be- 
lieved; believed only to be disbelieved. One believes because the 
detail is in the book, disbelieves because it is satirically exag- 
gerated and hence absurd, believes because it is "only" an exagger- 
ation of what, after all, does exist. This is very close to Brecht’s 
ver fremdungsef f ekt . What is familiar is made strange--one disbe- 
lieves; however, it is rooted in the familiar- -one believes (or 
rather stops disbelieving); yet it is absurd or comic--one begins 
to question the piece of actuality that has been used as a model 
for the satire . 

This is not a mixed reaction but the perception of a kind of 
paradox: the comedy of the satirical exaggeration "spills over" on 
to its model in actuality and one feels about the model as one felt 
about its comic extension. 

I would submit here that science fiction stands in some kind of 
paradoxical relation to both fantasy and naturalism in much the same 
way that satire stands in relation to both fantasy (the exaggeration) 
and actuality (the model). Certainly most science fiction is natu- 
ralistic, in style; yet there is the oddest kind of play between the 
sober literalness of tone of such fiction and its implicit ties to 
actuality. Critics outside the field, who assimilate science fic- 
tion to fantasy, tend to neglect both the straightforward realism 
of most science fiction (I’m talking about style, remember) and the 
oddities that such realistic matter-of-factness produces. It is the 
hardest thing in the world to get academic critics (especially New- 
Critical S5mibol hunters) to understand that events in a science fic - 
tion story are first and foremost What Happened , that they are to be 
taken as literally true in the same sense that the events in any 
naturalistic novel are to be taken as literally true. Science fic- 
tion developed as popular literature in the tradition of realism and 

54 



has only recently begun to play with the avant-garde toys of the 
1920* s, but most literary people (not only professors) insist on 
taking science fiction as symbol first, story second. Psycho- 
analytic critics, if they read science fiction at all, are horri- 
fied--such grotesquerie must be sick. That is, both camps insist 
that any literature that is not naturalism (in Delany*s sense) 
must be fantasy . They entirely miss the difference in subjunctivity 
between science fiction and fantasy and hence treat as bizarre sym- 
bolism what often has a solid scientific base* There is, for ex- 
ample, scarcely a writer of classic science fiction who has not been 
attracted by the conditions prevailing on the surface of the differ- 
ent planets of the solar system; an academic critic who does not 
know anything about the chemistry or the temperature and pressure 
of Jupiter’s surface may conclude that a story like Hal Clement's 
"Critical Point" intends to be nightmarish. It doesn't and it isn't. 

IV 

Fantasy usually carries a frame of some sort about it; science 
fiction usually does not. 

Fantasy very often starts in what Alexei Panshin calls "The 
Village" (the "real" world) and moves slowly into the fantastic 
"World Beyond The Hill,"^ Science fiction does not. 

That is, fantasy very often imitates the structure of the pas- 
toral; one escapes from the familiar into the strange or fantastic 
only to return to the familiar at the end of the story. Or, as in 
most nineteenth- century horror stories, one gradually becomes aware 
that one's familiar world contains the fantastic or horrible. Fan- 
tasy is usually a loop with two ends; the two ends are either rooted 
in the familiar world. The Village, or one end is rooted in The 
Village and one end has been cut, as in Sheridan Le Fanu's "Green 
Tea." Very seldom is the protagonist left facing the horrible or 
fantastic; in some manner the story conducts us back to the familiar 
and safe--either the protagonist so returns, or he dies and ^ re- 
turn. 


Science fiction usually begins m media s res ; we are plunged 
instantly into a strange world and we never return from it. A 
common pattern in science fiction is The Dislocated Protagonist-- 
that is, the protagonist who finds himself in a strange place or a 
strange world ^ the beginning of the story with no knowledge of 
how he got there. He usually does find out how he got there, but 
he also stays there. An even commoner pattern is The Dislocated 
Reader-- that is, the story begins £s i^ 1^ were £ naturalistic story, 
and the reader must find his own way through the strange world: to 
the characters in the story, of course, it's not a strange world at 
all. 


The frame of fantasy indicates the relation between fantasy 
and actuality: actuality is the frame, fantasy (what could not have 
happened ) exists inside the frame. We begin in actuality and move 
into fantasy; the segment or segments of "realism" exist in the 
story as a standard by which to measure the fantasy (for example, 

55 



the elaborate preface to J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings ) , 

In science fiction the frame is sometimes in evidence but more 
often not. A reader judges the science-fictional-ness of what hap- 
pens by what he himself knows of the actual world; that is, the 
reader carries his frame with him . What, in naturalism, would be 
the frame--the most "real" part of the story (future histories, 
quotations from encyclopedias, newspaper reports, and so on) --be- 
comes the most bizarre and the least believable. Such elements are 
pure Brechtian alienation: they are not so and they pretend extra- 
hard to be so# Furthermore, they are science- fictionally not - so; 
that is, they are not related to actuality by negative subjunctivity, 
but by some other kind of subjunctivity. Like satire, science fic- 
tion proposes a dialectical relation between the model and the fic- 
tional exaggeration/extrapolation/whatever. Consider, for example, 
the effect of referring to "the barbarism of the twentieth century"; 
or more drastically still, "the pastoral peacefulness of the twenti- 
eth century." Such phrases are not "framed" by naturalism; they are 
dropped into a totally strange context, a strange world; there is no 
represented real world in the science fiction novel against which to 
measure "the pastoral peacefulness of the twentieth century." The 
little shock such a phrase gives a reader comes from the reader's 
own knowledge of the twentieth century and from nowhere else. Of 
course, the science fiction writer assumes that his readers will 
have such knowledge. 

In science fiction the relation between the "secondary universef' 
of fiction and the actual universe is both implicit and intermit- 
tently more or less perceivable. It consists not of what is on the 
page but in the relation between that and the reader's knowledge of 
actuality. It is always shifting. 

One does not suspend one's disbelief in reading science fic- 
tion--the suspension of disbelief (complex to begin with, as it is 
with satire) fluctuates constantly. That is, the relation with 
actuality--what Delany would call the subjunctivity of the story-- 
fluctuates constantly. 

In this, science fiction resembles much contemporary fiction, 
what has been called post-realistic fiction. It makes sense to ask 
which part of a fantasy (could not happen) or a naturalistic tale 
(could happen ) is real and which part isn't--that is, idiich part 
of the story is meant to be objectively true and which part is the 
subjective imagining of one of the characters. But one cannot ask 
this of Pale Fire . Writers like Genet and Nabokov thrive on para- 
dox; e.g., fake narratives, framing devices that turn inside-out as 
one watches--all sorts of trick effects that make the work deliber- 
ately slippery. This slipperiness is the constant tension between 
the work's existence as artifact and its existence as a coherent 
"secondary universe"--states that would be ideally constant in 
naturalistic fiction. One is momentarily pulled into a work like 
Our Lady of the Flowers (suspension of disbelief) only to be 
pushed out or pushed into what turns into a further suspension of 
disbelief and so on. 


56 


These vanishing perspectives and trick mirrors are the stock- 
in- trade of the post-realistic novelist. The story moves constantly 
along the line stretched taut between the work-as-artifact (an 
extreme form of the kind of alienation practiced by satire) and the- 
work-as- secondary-universe. By the time one reaches a writer like 
Barthelme one cannot even be fooled any more--asking what really 
happened and what the characters or the narrator imagined would make 
absolutely no sense in his constructs. The point of the whole exer- 
cise lies in the paradox. One can neither suspend one’s disbelief 
nor avoid suspending it. The relation of this kind of mimesis to 
actuality is very different from anything we are used to, possibly 
because the post-realistic novelists conceive of the relation be- 
tween the subjective and the objective, the inside and the outside 
of the human mind, very differently from the authors we are used to. 

Science fiction writers conceive of the relation between pos- 
sibility and impossibility very differently from the writers we are 
used to. Their work has an analogous shifting, paradoxical quality. 
Science fiction, as I mentioned before, writes about what is neither 
impossible nor possible ; the fact is that when the question of pos- 
sibility comes up in science fiction, the author can only reply that 
nobody knows. We haven’t been there yet. We haven’t discovered 
that yet. Science fiction hasn’t happened . A novel like Ursula 
LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is certainly a science fiction 
novel. Yet one cannot say that the hermaphroditic humans it de- 
scribes are either possible or impossible. We don’t know. To write 
about what is already possible takes us out of the realm of science 
fiction altogether, something few people outside the field have 
realized. 

As Samuel Delany has said, science fiction avoids offending 
against what is known to be known (ideally science fiction would 
avoid offending against what is known, but none of us is perfect). 
This limbo, this no-man* s-land of not-possible , not-impossible in- 
heres in the least sophisticated science fiction--a very different 
matter from fantasy in which the impossibility is both clear and 
insisted upon (what cannot happen ) . 


V 

In any fiction a sequence of words may be simultaneously a 
real person, a character, a mood, a structural element, a figure 
(as in a painted landscape), and an allegorical or political or 
social idea (for example, part of an abstract didactic statement). 
Modern fiction is obviously so- -and in modern fiction the structural 
element may contradict the figure, the figure may contradict the 
character, and so on. 

The key is "simultaneously'*- -these are not levels of meaning 
with the literal level "first" and the others coming under it or 
after it. In fact the symbolism can come "first" (that is, one 
reacts to it first) and can conceal the literal concreteness of 
the event or person. Nabokov often sets things up this way, as 
with Lolita herself. In Genet the daydreamlikeness of the events, 
the obviousness of the book-as-artifact, as a record of the psycho- 



logical processes of its creator (though that, too, is fictional) 
obscures the particularity of events and situations. Both writers 
beguile the reader with over-interpretation and then, so to speak, 
hit him across the nose with facts. Much of Lolita , much of Pale 
Fire , all of Genet’s novels, are actually simpler than they appear 
to be--although the impression of mysterious complexity is also 
part of the book and one can’t get rid of that, either. 

I would contend that in science fiction the reader himself per- 
forms the paradoxical movement into and out of the work. Aesthetic 
distance fluctuates constantly, and so does the constantly varying 
factor of "science-fictionalness” (divergence from the representa- 
tion of actuality). Science fiction practices the alienation effect: 
sometimes straightforwardly, sometimes inside-out, as it were. For 
example, the effect of a reference to "Asimov, one of the great 
writers of the twentieth century" is a kind of triple alienation. 
First of all, the future in the story is not the real future (about 
which none of us can know anything) but a fictional future. Second, 
the reference looks back from the fictional future not to the real 
past but to a fictional past . Third, this fictional past is not our 
present but a kind of fictional present co-existing with our present. 

As modern fiction often uses the devices of comedy (discontinu- 
ity, automatism, and so on) but not for comic effect, so science 
fiction often uses the devices of satire (mostly distancing devices) 
but not for satiric effect. What is at first bizarre turns out to 
have hidden in it the familiar, but this perception of the familiar 
causes the familiar to be seen from an odd perspective that makes 
it, in turn, bizarre. 

A post-realistic tale that succeeds in being altogether inco- 
herent is not comprehensible. A post-realistic tale that succeeds 
in being altogether comprehensible is not post-realistic, A science 
fiction story that succeeds in being altogether strange is not com- 
prehensible, One tie t succeeds in being altogether familiar is not 
science fiction. That is, without any points of reference that 
connect straightforwardly with actuality, the work falls apart. But 
with every point of reference clearly and directly related to actu- 
ality, the work loses its science-fictionalness , the suspension of 
disbelief is complete, and one has "straight" fiction. To put it 
another way: science fiction must be neither impossible nor pos- 
sible. 


Science fiction occupies a paradoxical or dialectical position 
between fantasy and naturalism. The term "science fiction" belongs 
in the same class as "black comedy" and "post-realism," 

To ask of fiction the questions one might ask of actuality 
makes sense to us only because we have two centuries or more of 
realistic writing behind us; we have begun to believe it’s the only 
kind of writing there is. But science fiction--like post-realistic 
fiction- -does not stand in any such simple relation to actuality. 
Fiction is a highly overdetermined verbal construct, "polyphonic" in 
Ehrenzweig’s sense. ^ A story is closer to the interaction of magnet- 
ic fields than to what we think of as life. And perhaps life is, too. 

58 



Notes 


Samuel L. Delany, "About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy 
Five Words," in Extrapolation , 10 (May 1970), 52-66; re- 
printed in Clareson, The Other Side of Realism (Bowling 
Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1971), 
pp. 130- 146* 

2 

Alexei Panshin, "The Nature of Creative Fantasy," Fantastic , 

20 (February 1971), 100-106. 

3 

Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art (Berkeley's The 
University of California Press, 1967). 


Harpur College 
Binghamton, New York 13905 


59 



Reviews and Brief Mention: 


The Occult in 19 th Century 
American Fiction 


Robert Galbreath 

MEDIUMS, AND SPIRIT-RAPPERS, AND ROARING RADICALS: SPIRITUALISM IN 

AMERICAN LITERATURE, 1850-1900. By Howard Kerr. Urbana : 

University of Illinois Press, 1972. Pp. x + 261. $8.95. 

The multiple literary roles of the occult are now beginning to 
spark scholarly notice. It is only a sli^t exaggeration to say 
that for years the Gothic novel and the occultisms of Blake and 
Yeats virtually exhausted academe's attention span for modern oc- 
cult literature. Howard Kerr's careful study of Spiritualism in 
American writing, by its sensitivity to historical milieu and its 
openness to both "popular" and "elite" responses, is a major achieve- 
ment which places the study of occult fiction on a broader basis. 

Although Professor Kerr does not offer any general reflections 
on the occult in literature, it is not difficult to devise a rough 
guide to possible types of literary occultism. There is, first, 
the incidental use of the occult to hei^ten atmosphere (the witches 
in Macbeth ) or as a minor plot contrivance (John Carter's mysterious 
transportation to Barsoom). Of more interest is the pure entertain- 
ment, whether melodrama, romance, or spoof, in which the occult is 
central to the story line, as in "sword-and-sorcery" and the ghost 
story. In neither of these categories is accurate knowledge of the 
occult essential to the effect. This is much less true, however, 
of the remaining two categories: the serious literary work which 
centers on an occult movement or belief-system for its own sake or 
as a commentary on human frailities and aspirations (Satan in Goray . 
The Crucible .. Faust ); and occult fiction either by occultists or 
sympathizers who wish to promote their views in fictional form 
(Bulwer-Lytton's Zanoni, Aleister Crowley's Moonchild ) or by de- 
tractors who wish to expose the occult as entirely demonic. Kerr 
provides Spiritualistically oriented examples of all four types. 

Spiritualism as an organized movement rests on two propositions: 
that the human personality survives bodily death and that communica- 
tion with the dead is possible through mediums. It began with the 
1848 Hydesville, New York, rappings of (or through) the Fox sisters* 
Kerr's first chapter describes the popular enthusiasm for spirit 
rappings and mediums from 1848 to the late 1850's, when the novelty 
had been exhausted. There is a certain thinness to this chapter, 
in part due to the author's failure to consider the pre-1848 roots 
of Spiritualism in Swedenborg, Mesmerism, the Shakers, Cahagnet, 

60 


and Andrew Jackson Davis. This background is treated in detail in 
J. Stillson Judah's The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical 
Movement in America (1967) and Slater Brown's The Heyday of Spirit - 
ualism (1970) --neither of which appears in Kerr's lengthy bibliog- 
raphy — and in Frank Podmore's history of the movement vhich Kerr 
has otherwise used to excellent advantage. His chapter on Ameri- 
can Spiritualism from 1860 to 1900, however, is richly rewarding, 
as are the historical details in his literary chapters, despite his 
failure to consult G, K. Nelson's Spiritualism and Society (1969). 

One gains a clear sense of the nature of the second outburst of 
popularity in the wake of the Civil War and its culmination about 
1875, when the exposure of the fraudulent "spirit" Katie King 
capped a growing disillusionment. 

The literary response to the Spiritualism of the 1850' s ap- 
peared as humor, satire, and occult fiction. Aside from Melville's 
"The Apple-Tree Table" (1856), to which Kerr gives a new reading in 
the light of the Spiritualist concerns of the day, and Lowell's 
verse "The Unhappy Lot of Mr. Knott" (1851), the humorous response 
consisted almost entirely of ephemeral tales and journalism of the 
Artemus Ward variety. Spiritualism was used surprisingly little as 
a framework for supernatural tales, perhaps because the numerous 
burlesques and attacks robbed it of credibility. Both Hawthorne 
and Melville introduced some elements of it into their novels of 
the 1850's, but only Fitz-James O'Brien seems to have successfully 
adapted it to supernatural fiction. The satirical attacks, among 
them Orestes Brownson's The Spirit-Rapper (1854), on the other hand, 
were numerous and forceful, denouncing Spiritualism as demonic, 
fraudulent, or immoral (for its associations with radical politics 
and free love) . After the collapse of the second wave of Spiritual- 
ism in the 1870's, the whole phenomenon became increasingly useful 
to creative writers for humor, satire, irony, and reflections on 
human vanity. Kerr's major examples (a chapter each) are Howells* 

The Undiscovered Country ^ Mark Twain, and James' The Bostonians . 

Althou^ literary Spiritualism is certainly encompassed by the 
broad concept of speculative fiction, it is the occult melodramas 
of the nineteenth century which bear most closely on the development 
of science fiction. Unfortunately, Kerr skimps on this subject, 
even relegating a list of representative titles to a footnote (p.64). 
All is not lost, however, for ten pages are devoted to Fitz-James 
O'Brien and three stories anthologized by H. Bruce Franklin in 
Future Perfect are discussed. Only brief references are given to 
S. Weir Mitchell's "Was He Dead?" (1870), a non-Spiritualistic 
story of restoring consciousness to a dead murderer by means of a 
blood pump (Mitchell's earlier story "The Case of George Dedlow" 
(1866) was accepted as factual by credulous Spiritualists) and to 
J. D. Whelpley's "The Atomos of Chladni" (1860, not Franklin's 
1859), in which the claim of an inventor that spirits designed his 
inventions is cited as evidence of his madness. O'Brien's "The 
Diamond Lens" (1870) is discussed at length. Here again spirit- 
inspiration is symptomatic of the inventor's mental illness. But 
the seance--conducted by Mne. Vulpes (Latin for "fox") who, Kerr 
demonstrates, is modelled on the Fox sisters--serves as a means 

61 



for naturalizing the marvellous. There is an ambiguity to the tale 
which Kerr believes allows it to be read as a satire on Spiritualism, 
a psychological account of scientific obsession, and as science fic- 
tion. 


One of the appeals of Spiritualism was its claim to provide 
scientific evidence for life after death. To the extent that 
Spiritualistic fiction interacted with the development of science 
fiction, it was the concept of marvellous science which served as 
the bridge. On the whole, considering Spiritualism's social and 
religious impact, its literary heritage is relatively slight. No 
American writer of importance, one or two poems by Whitman excepted, 
found "affirmative inspiration" in it. We may hope, however, that 
scholars will be inspired by Kerr's example to study other areas of 
occult fiction as intelligently. 


Brief Mention 


Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree ; The True History of Science Fic - 
Fiction. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1973. 
339 pp* $7.95. To date, Aldiss has provided the best popular 
history of sf available. He divides eleven chapters equally 
between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the 
period from the 1930' s to date, giving particular emphasis to 
Mary Shelley, Poe, Wells, and Burroughs. His treatment of 
Campbell's Astounding may well be the high-point of the book. 
Although he obviously sought to capture the broad outline of 
the development of sf, one wishes he had been more comprehen- 
sive. In the chapter "ERB and the Weirdies," for example, 
William Hope Hodgson (4 pp.), A Merritt (2 pp.), and H. P. 
Lovecraft (3 pp.) receive only cursory attention, while other 
writers are done in a paragraph or two. Nor is the early 
American sf given adequate attention; Garrett P. Serviss, for 
example, draws only one paragraph, and only one of his four 
important novels is mentioned. Yet despite these objections — 
they may be quibbles--Aldiss has outlined the development of 
science fiction. Of particular value, especially evident in 
such early chapters as "The Origins of the Species: Mary 
Shelley (Extrapolation . May 1973), he has done a fine job 
capturing the intellectual background from which sf sprang. 
Billion Year Spree is an important book, and ^en it goes 
paperback, it will be used deservedly as a standard text. 

But the full history of science fiction has yet to be written. 


Moskowitz, Sam, ed. The Crystal Man ; Stories by Edward Page 
Mitchell . Garden City, N.Y.; Doubleday & Company, Inc., 
1973. Ixxii, 358, $7.95. The man some regard as the most 

62 


controversial scholar in the field has pulled a coup--without 
the aid of academic union cards or graduate assistants. He 
has produced an anthology of the stories of Edward Page 
Mitchell, who was for some fifty years an editor of the New 
York Sun . In a lengthy introduction, Moskowitz calls him 
'*The Lost Giant of American Science Fiction," and certainly 
his work and his influence provide an important link between 
the periods of Poe and 0*Brien and Bellamy and Stockton. He 
was apparently widely acquainted with-“if not a direct in- 
fluence upon--many of the Americans who contributed to the 
field. In a sense this book raises more questions than it 
answers, for it opens up the whole area of American newspapers 
and periodicals of the last half of the nineteenth century and 
proves once again that scholars must do much more research be- 
fore the full history of at least American sf can be written. 


Williamson, Jack. H. G . Wells : Critic of Progress . Baltimore, Md.: 
The Mirage Press, 1973. 162 pp. $5.95. The greatest value 

of this new study of Wells lies not only in the analysis of 
all of his science fiction, but also in Williamson's ability 
to relate Wells to the growth of the field. He credits Wells, 
quite properly, with both the creation of modern science fic- 
tion and futurology (the future as history). In doing so, he 
emphasizes that Wells explored the "limits set upon the human 
future by the nature of the cosmos, and the internal limits 
set by the nature of man." In that he concentrates upon the 
works, Williamson has provided a valuable supplement to the 
recent biographies. 


Lee, Walt. Reference Guide to Fantastic Films : Science Fiction , 

Fantasy , 6e Horror. V. 2 , G-O o Los Angeles: Chelsea-Lee Books, 
1973. xviii, 155-354, P52, X24. $9o50. This is the second 

volume of the three-volume series. As was said in the review 
of the first volume, because the entries are so complete in 
their information and because the coverage is international, 
this remains the single most valuable research tool published 
in the field of the sf film. 


Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. Supernatural Horror in Literature . 
New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973. ix, 110. $1.50. 
E.F. Bleiler has done the introduction to the reprint paper- 
back edition of this long-unavailable study. Originally 
published in 1927 in The Recluse and issued in bookform in 
1945 by Ben Abramson (who published J.O. Bailey's Pilgrims ) , 
Lovecraft 's monograph-length study has more than historical 
importance, for one may easily infer that he identified him- 
self with the Gothic tradition. Of particular interest, 
perhaps, is his too-brief chapter on Poe. 


63 



McGhan, Barry. ^ Index to Science Fiction Book Reviews in As - 
tound ing / Ana log 1949-1969 . Fantasy and Science Fiction 1949 - 
1969 . Galaxy 1950-1969 . College Station, Texas: SFRA, 1973. 
vii. 88. $2.95. The first in the SFRA Miscellaneous Pub- 

lications Series, edited by H. W. Hall of Texas A&M, this 
volume brings together for the first time record of the re- 
views in three major sf magazines, two for their complete runs. 
It makes both author and title listings. The 1969 cut-off, 
McGhan explains, occurred because in 1970 Hall began his annual 
SFBRI . The preface also identifies the authors of the review 
columns. (Please note that at present, because it is an SFRA 
pamphlet, book orders must be directed to Professor Ivor Rogers, 
Box 1068, Des Moines, Iowa 50311.) 


Swigart, Leslie Kay. Harlan Ellison : A Bibliographical Checklist . 
Dallas, Texas: Williams Publishing Company, 1973. vi, 117. 
$3.50. As H. W. Hall has said in his article in this issue, 

Ms. Swigart has produced what must be a model for one-author 
bibliographies. (Please note that the volume should be 
ordered directly from Ms . Swigart, P. 0. Box 25474, Los Angeles, 
Ca. 90025.) 


Reprint Series 


Dover *s publication of the Lovecraft volume comes as a valu- 
able complement to the fine series of science fiction and fantasy 
titles they have made available in paperback. These include titles 
by Verne, Wells, Stapledon, and John Taine, as well as some of the 
long-unavailable classics of nineteenth and twentieth century fan- 
tasy, Among them are Lord Dunsany’s Gods . Men and Ghosts ; Robert 
W. Chamber’s The King in Yellow and Other Stories ; The Best Tales 
of E.T.A. Hoffman ; The Collected Ghost St or ies of Oliver Onions ; 
Best Ghost Stories of J. S . LeFanu; and a trilogy of Rider Haggard’s 
best novels in one volume. One might well argue that they have 
provided the entire reading list for an introductory course to 
fantasy and sf, if one were to stop short of the period of the 
magazines. Inflation has affected them as it has everyone, but 
most of the books may be had for less than $4.00, E. F. Bleiler 
has been the general editor, and such introductions as have been 
added are his. What he has done, he has done well, but if there 
is a fault with the series, it is the brevity of those introduc- 
tions. The most notable recent addition, in two volumes, is a 
photographic reproduction of Varney the Vampire ; or The Feast of 
Blood by James Malcolm Rymer (or Thomas Peckett Prest), which, 
Bleiler reminds his readers, was the most celebrated of the mid- 
nineteenth century "penny dreadfuls." All in all, Dover has pro- 
duced the finest line of reprints available to date. The matter 
of copyright largely explains their predilection to nineteenth 
century titles, although they have chosen, uniformly, books having 
historical value. One wishes they would enlarge the series, 

64 



particularly if they included more extensive introductions. 


With the increasing interest in sf and fantasy, everyone seems 
to be considering reprint series (more of this in May). Hopefully, 
the editors and publishers will be interested in something more 
than a fast buck. Of the series v^ich have materialized to date, 
the most notable — after Dover--appears to be that issued by Fantasy 
Classics (6045 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood, Ca. 91606). I 
have seen three titles, issued in an attractive 9x12 format: Arthur 
Machen’s The Terror (1917), Clemence Houseman^s Werewolf (1896), 
and Robert Neal Leath*s The Obsidian Ape (1938). Orders may be 
placed with the publisher at $2.95 a title, although one may ap- 
parently secure twelve titles a year for $20.00. One suspects 
that the titles are chosen for a popular ("fan") audience, and no 
critical or historical introduction has been included. Yet the 
effort of Fantasy Classics should be encouraged because they are 
issuing significant titles that increase one's awareness of the 
breadth of the field. 


T.D.C. 


65 



The Moral Stance of 

Kurt Vonnegut 

Rebecca M. Pauly 

The versatile, protean nature of Kurt Vonnegut 's career as 
a writer poses the problem of where to place him in the contem- 
porary literary scene. With a certain facile agility, he has 
gone genre jumping, assuming the colors, alternately, of short 
story writer, novelist, pla3^right, and sometime poet. Critics 
have attempted to trace an evolutionary pattern through various 
categories, techniques, styles, and points of view. Yet, however 
much the form varies, Vonnegut *s very personal, readily identi- 
fiable products persist in their family resemblance. What is 
the essential Vonnegut that transcends these changing shapes, and 
wherein lies the value of his contribution? Along the way, Vonne- 
gut has been accused of having nothing new to say, of beating a 
lot of dead horses. ^ True? He has been accused of frivolity,^ 
of lack of discipline.^ True? He has been accused of authorial 
amoral ity- -his works have no heroes, no villains, no morals, no 
ax to grind. ^ True? 

Vonnegut entered literature through the door of science fic- 
tion, what some would unhesitatingly label the back door. His 
technical background as a chemistry major at Cornell before World 
War II gave him ease and facility in handling scientific literary 
hardware, but the fascination of technology is undermined by a 
dark view of its deleterious effects. His works often project the 
consequences of the modern scientific world in nightmarish sequences 
of a shocking future, to wit. Player Piano . Sirens of Titan ^ and 
Cat * s Cradle . The demon-^ scientist figure is especially well por- 
trayed in the character of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, who fulfills the 
biblical prophesy that tasting of the tree of knowledge will bring 
destruction on the race, Man is undone by his presumption to 
tinker with the universe. 

The notoriously schizophrenic quality of science fiction per- 
vades Vonnegut *s work, even to the center of his authorial identity: 
by writing Player Piano . he was able to escape G. E,, and he has 
never stopped using fiction to project himself beyond the con- 
straints of physical reality. In his terse telegraphic style, one 
finds impatience with even the confining nature of printed language. 
Often his characters* doubling of identity is accomplished by the 
juxtaposition of spatially and temporally irreconcilable sequences, 
as in Sirens of Titan and Slaugherhouse Five , where traditional 
boundaries burst before the power of imagination. And almost all 
Vonnegut *s characters (foremost Howard Campbell of Mother Night ) 
are torn by their dual quality, the inevitable incompatibility 
between the official, public identity and the real, private self. 
They search for shelter from the emptiness of institutionalized 
being. The world man has created is incapable of satisfying him; 

66 


he is alienated by, and sacrificed to, the real villains, the 
monstrous machines of industry, in peace and war. The query 
raised in Flayer Piano of "what people are for"^ echoes through 
Salo’s legend of the machines* takeover on Tralfamadore in 
Sirens of Titan (ST 274) and confronts us again in God Bless You, 
Mr . Rosewater . **^at in hell are people for?** (gBY 115). 

Vonnegut*s frustrations over the plight of the human condi- 
tion led him to science fiction in the first place. Its virtues 
are eulogized in Eliot Rosewater's drunken speech to a convention 
of science fiction writers: 

I love you sons of bitches . . . You're all I read any 
more. You're the only ones who *11 talk about the really 
terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to 
know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, 
either, but one that'll last for billions of years. 

You're the only ones with guts enough to really care 
about the future, who really notice what machines do 
to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what 
big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunder- 
standings, mistakes, accidents and catastrophes do to 
us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over 
time and distances without limit, over mysteries that 
will never die, over the fact that we are right now 
determining whether the space voyage for the next bil- 
lion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell. 

(GBY 18) 

Science fiction not only enables the writer to sound the doomsday 
alarm, it lets him say things too difficult to say any other way. 
In a German prison camp, Eliot Rosewater and Billy Pilgrim share 
a library of science fiction novels, to their spiritual salvation 

They had both found life meaningless, partly because of 
what they had seen in war ... So they were trying to 
re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fic- 
tion was a big help. . . . everything there was to 
know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov . . . But 
that isn't enough any more. . . . 

(SF 87) 

Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut*s narrow-minded, bad science fiction 
writer with good ideas, a "frightened, aging Jesus" figure, ar- 
ticulates the ugly truth: 

The problem is this: How to love people who have no 
use? ... if we can't find reasons and methods for 
treasuring human beings because they are human beings , 
then we might as well, as has so often been suggested, 
rub them out, 

(GBY 183) 

For all its attractions, though, science fiction falls short 
in serving to express Vonnegut's views of man’s fate; it loses 

67 



him to fantasy, satire, black humor. The man-made, mechanized 
universe of science fiction is too presumptuous. Its technical 
realism, always on the side of the plausible, is founded on the 
basic tenet of progress and change, not necessarily positive, 
but involving a linear, cause-and -effect concept of human exis- 
tence. Vonnegut rejects both the idea of verifiable reality and 
man's control of his destiny. In a universe governed by the ab- 
surd, empirical problems of human existence become irrelevant. 

There can be no qualitative distinction between reality and il- 
lusion, only the question of spiritual survival in a world gone 
mad. Thus ultimately Vonnegut, the anthropologist, rejects 
Vonnegut, the chemist.” 

Man's arrogant belief in his ability to shape the course of 
history is thrown into perspective by a Tralfamadorian : 

If I hadn't spent so much time studying Earthlings . , . 

I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ’free will,’ 

I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the uni- 
verse, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. 

Only on Earth is there any talk of free will. 

(SF 74) 

The human condition, as seen by Tralfamadorians , is a vast pan- 
orama where the dimension of time is eliminated, and sequential 
chronology is fragmented into a cubistic simultaneity. Billy 
Pilgrim moves through time like a body moving through space, 
measured by the Doppler effect. This dispassionate, capricious 
point of view is characteristic of black humor. All of human 
history has been controlled by the Tralfamadorians in order to 
take the message ’’greetings” to the other end of the universe. 

Like most black humorists, Vonnegut has lost faith in a rational, 
just universe and the efficacy of human action, Man is ”a victim 
of a series of accidents” 229), He is unbelievably flawed, 
inferior to his machines, vulnerable to his ambitions. 

Vonnegut ’s mordant attacks on the absurdities of the human 
condition and the follies, inequities, and brutalities of man's 
making place him in a karass including such notables as Swift, 
Voltaire, Diderot, Twain, Mencken, Lewis, and Barth. With his own 
special brand of irreverence, he gives us private glimpses of the 
great and powerful, undermining their aura of importance. Often 
the ridiculous is allowed to speak for itself, the author believing 
that man's stupidity will reveal itself unaided. Vonnegut laughs 
at cruelty and injustice, at life, like Beaumarchais' Figaro, in 
order not to cry. He is too vigilant to cry; crying helps us to 
forget and lets us indulge in the luxury of self-pity. 

In Voltaire’s Candide . the Manichean philosopher Martin muses 
that the world has been created in order to enrage man.^ Like 
Martin, Vonnegut feels rage, as well as frustration and depression. 
But unlike those who rail, he exploits the power of the unsaid. 
Wielding classic understatement, he is a cool medium, eliciting 
intense reader participation. His novels are eminently uncinema tic. 
The physical frailty of his settings and characters leads the reader 

68 



to flesh out the subtle almost transparent world before him. 

This frailty carries its own message, too, as Vonnegut explains 
in Slaughterhouse ■ •Five ; 

There are almost no characters in this story, and 
almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of 
the people in it are so sick and so much the list- 
less playthings of enormous forces. 

(SF 140) 

Vonnegut *s subtlety has left him open to charges of frivol- 
ity and inappropriate levity. Is it not, rather, a healthy skep- 
ticism regarding moral stances and pronouncements? Those who 
rationalize the course of events, who accommodate injustice and 
cruelty and death, have beleaguered man for centuries: 

Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why 
this event is structured as it is, telling how other 
events may be achieved or avoided, 

CSF 74) 

The true black humorist laughs at the outcome of man's actions, 
the inevitability of the absurd. Vonnegut, however, transcends 
the sterility of nihilism. If he mingles humor and horror, it is 
to heighten our sense of the human dilemma. 

Thus it can be said that Vonnegut has indeed a strong moral 
response to man's fate--that of basic humanism. From Player Piano 
to Slaugherhouse-Five ^ the message is clear: love your fellow 
man, with compassion, with caritas not eros . Responsibility to 
one's neighbor becomes responsibility to oneself. Truth and 
falsehood are redefined irrespective of any point of reference in 
perceptually ascertainable reality. "We are what we pretend to 
be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be," the stat- 
ed moral of Mother Night , touches on existential questions of 
moral identity, echoing the Sartrian dialectic, "Nous sommes la 
somme de nos actes": we are what we Campbell commits suicide, 

like Salo, to punish himself for crimes against himself. In the 
existential sense, he is a microcosm of humanity; the acts of 
each man contribute to the identity of Man. When actions become 
institutionalized, official, the sense of responsibility is di- 
luted: hence, the danger of a morally intolerable schizophrenia, 

Vonnegut 's loss of faith in an ordered universe leads him 
again and again to the question of religion. The Christian 
religion is rejected, because man learned the wrong lesson from 
the crucifixion: "Before you kill somebody , make absolutely sure 
he isn't well connnected " (SF, 94). Any religion aspiring to au- 
thenticity must protect the unwanted, the unloved. In the re- 
written Gospel Vonnegut offers us, Jesus is a nobody, whom God 
adopts as his son when he is tortured unjustly. "God said this: 
From this moment on. He will punish horribly anybody who torments 
£ hum who has no connections I” (SF 95). It must be a human reli- 
gion, catering to man's spiritual needs here and now. All onto- 
logical questions of a working God are abandoned; the church 

69 



militant is anathema. Sirens of Titan and Slaugherhouse- Five 
dispose mercilessly of the idea of crusades. "The name of the 
new religion ... is The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent" 
(ST 180). The idea of providential luck is a horrible joke 
played on man; benign neglect is the best man can hope for, 
Bokononism extends this concept to a working religion complete 
with Gospel, including some brilliantly inverted echoes of the 
Bible . The dogma of Bokononism are foma (lies), but harmless-- 
in fact, salutory untruths, filling a need articulated by Eliot 
Rosewater: "I think you guys are going to have to come up with 

a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want 
to go on living" (SF^ 87-88), Bokononism claims to serve man with- 
out forcing him into the pose of saintliness or urging him to 
turn life in on a better ticket. Central to Vonnegut’s moral 
reality is the certainty of man’s mortality: "When you’re dead, 
you’re dead" (MN^vii). And the basic element in his humanism is 
his acceptance of the human condition. "So be it" and "so it 
goes" echo through his works. In these amens, bitterness and 
resignation are mixed with a sense of nostalgic joy. The last 
line of Bokonon’s book sums it up: "I would make a statue of 
myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose 
at You Know Who" (CC 231) . 

In Vonnegut’s world there are no saviors. The only hero is 
an everyman, at once the lowest and the highest common denomina- 
tor. Like Camus’ stranger and Malamud’s fixer, his central truth 
is, "I am a man." He faces a grim prospect: the impossibility of 
of utopia is obviated by Cat ’ s Cradle ; there is no apparent reasor^ 
purpose, or justification for the mess man is in and no apparent 
way out. In a world of madness where Godot will never come, where 
man is abandoned to his fate, he must survive without hope. Like 
Sisyphus pushing his boulder, Vonnegut’s hero must strive for 
something with no anticipation of success, renewing his effort 
daily. Billy Pilgrim sees on his office wall and on the pendant 
Montana wears the ancient Sanskrit prayer for wisdom to distin- 
guish the limits of man’s control of his destiny. In Happy Birth - 
day . Wanda June . Vonnegut conclusively rejects the image of the 
conquering hero as murderous, placing in its stead the shy healer. 
Humility is essential to Vonnegut’s morality. Man is imperfect, 
frail, inefficient, alternately brilliant and stupid (PP 262). 

Man is mud (CC 180). Given these limitations, there is only one 
viable course of action: "God damn it, you’ve got to be kind" 

(GBY 93) . Vonnegut asks us how long it will take us "to realize 
that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is 
to love whoever is around to be loved" (^ 313). The act of lov- 
ing, accepting, tolerating one’s fellow man becomes everyman’s 
chance to be an artist, to create beauty in an ugly world. Eliot 
Rosewater dedicates himself to this career, "I’m going to love 
these discarded Americans, even though they’re useless and unat- 
tractive. That is going to be my work of art" (GBY 36), 

Behind this lies Vonnegut’s frustrated but determined longing 
to love life. The fitting benediction, the epitaph worthy of 
everyman, is a toss-up between the two he offers us. One is from 
the last rites of Bokononism: "I loved everything I saw" (CC 181); 

70 


the other is Billy Pilgrim* s, ’^Everything was beautiful, and 
nothing hurt" (SF 106). The authenticity lies here, in the 
courage to confront life with all its absurdities, and by loving 
it, in the shape of your fellow man and yourself, to make it 
beautiful • 


Notes 

^Richard Todd, "The Masks of Kurt Vonnegut,” New York Times 
Magazine ^ 24 January 1971, p. 24. 

2 

C. D. B. Bryan, "Kurt Vonnegut on Target," New Republic , 8 Octo- 
ber 1966, p. 21. 

3 

Todd, p, 26, and Benjamin DeMott , "Vonnegut 's Other-worldly 
Laugher," Saturday Review . 1 May 1971, p. 38; they assure 
us that Vonnegut is "deeply unfascinated by anything diffi- 
cult." 

4 

J. M. Crichton, "Science Fiction and Vonnegut," New Republ ic , 

26 April 1969, p. 35, and Vonnegut himself in Slaugherhouse - 
Five (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1969), p. 7. 

^Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Player Piano (New York: Scribner's, 1952), 

p. 277. References to Vonnegut 's works will appear in paren- 
theses in the body of the text, referring to the following 
editions not already cited: 

The Sirens of Titan (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1959); 
Mother Night (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); 

Cat's Cradle (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1963); 

God Bless You . Mr . Rosewater (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 
1965). 

Vonnegut studied anthropology at the University of Chicago after 
World War II and admits that it changed his view of the human 
condition. Slaugherhouse - Five . p. 7. 

^Voltaire, Romans et Contes (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1966), 
p. 229. 


West Grove, Pa. 19390 


71 



The Many Ways to Read 
an 'Old’ Book 

Gerard W. O’Connor 

The Paycock was right. The whole work ^ ”in a terrible 
state o* chassis.” For there I was a *thumbin* through the 
latest Extrapolation when I met with Napper Tandy and he took me 
by the hand--but, be the holy, he nearly broke it. To translate 
from the Gaelic; in Extrapolation (December 1972) Colman 0*Hare, 
in ”0n Reading an *01d’ Book,” takes spirited exception to my 
article, **Why Tolkien *s Lord of the Rings Should Not be Popular 
Culture,” (Extrapolation . December 1971) . Now, the immutable laws 
of critical combat demand that I (1) claim that my adversary has 
completely misread my article; (2) hoist him by his own scholarly 
petard; (3) infer from the combat at least one sententious morsel 
of aesthetic wisdom. Alas, Mr. 0*Hare leaves me no choice but to 
perform as any good law-abiding critic would. 

0*Hare states that in my view the ”chief fault” of the tril- 
ogy ”appears to be that Tolkien has not at all addressed himself 
to *now* problems.” Ironically, I argued the opposite: that the 
trilogy does address itself to contemporary problems, but in a 
Nixonian way (for example, war and women). He also accuses me 
of attacking the popularity of the trilogy because it does not 
echo my ”biases.” If preferring peace to war is a ”bias,” then 
I*m afraid I’m guilty; however, I was not really attacking the 
popularity of the trilogy but pointing up the critical insensi- 
tivity of the Tolkien cultists T^ich perpetuates it. 

^re importantly, O’Hare states that ’’socio-political criti- 
cism works best when applied to works (like Kingsley’s Alton 
Locke . Disraeli’s Sibyl . and the like) ^ich deal with definite 
social and political trends,” but it cannot apply to the trilogy 
because that work ’’predates the Cold War” and because Tolkien 
himself said it is ’’neither allegorical nor topical.” At this 
point o’Hare and I part critical company altogether. If The 
Lord of the Rings is politically irrelevant because it was writ- 
ten before the Cold War, then Jocasta’s ”How many men, in dreams, 
have lain with their mothers I” must be psychologically irrelevant 
because Sophocles did not read Freud. In other words socio- 
political criticism, like psychological, frequently is most il- 
luminating xdien applied to works that are not consciously social, 
political, or psychological--as, for example, the poetry of Emily 
Dickinson and the novels of Jane Austen. Or, for instance, do 
not many readers find the Foundation trilogy more politically 
interesting than The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress ? Furthermore, to 
dismiss a socio-political reading of The Lord of the Rings be- 
cause Tolkien stated his work was ’’neither allegorical nor topi- 
cal” is to betray an extraordinary critical naivete'’. One does 
not have to be a formalist Weatherman to know which way that 


72 



critical wind is blowing. From D. H. Lawrence's comments on Sons 
and Lovers to Arthur Miller's on After the Fall . authorial exege- 
sis has been thoroughly discredited. And since Tolkien himself 
has also stated, "Gandalf is an angel," he has to be considered 
a rather unreliable source. 

o'Hare concludes that "either the trilogy is a novel (even 
a 'fantastic' novel), or it is not worth a second glance." This 
complete identification of evaluative and critical judgment with 
genre classification is a classic statement of what all Extrapo - 
lation readers should call the Elitist Fallacy. That value in- 
heres in genre and that there is a hierarchy of genres are 
aesthetic principles which become fixed, after Aristotle, in the 
time of Horace and which appear most influentially in Matthew 
Arnold: "The tact of the Greeks in matters of this kind was in- 

fallible. . , Their categories of epic, dramatic, lyric and so 
forth, have a natural propriety, and should be adhered to."^ 


Unfortunately, very few critics of science fiction were 
listening when Eliot said in 1930 that "we no longer take serious- 
ly" most of Arnold's ideas. ^ For the critical history of science 
fiction has been dominated by a fierce isolationism based on the 
premise that as a genre, sf is not only different from but, let's 
admit it, inferior to mainstream genres. All those shrill "SF: 
separate-but-better" cries did little more than betray all the 
insecurity beneath. Understandable in the days of gadget prose, 
the isolationist spirit is as anachronistic today as Verne's 
68,040 ton cannon. For example, I find the Panshins ' attack on 
the mainstream novel not only critically untenable but historic- 


ally regressive--Heinlein made the same emotional charge years 
ago.^ Quite frankly, it makes no sense to me why one can't read 
and enjoy Delany and Updike, Zelazny and Bellow, Merril and 


Mailer"-or, for that matter. Extrapolation and the New York Re - 


view of Books . 


Let me state my position here very concisely. Science fic- 
tion is literature; and qua a literary genre, it is neither 
superior nor inferior to any other genre. Of course, sf has its 
distinguishing characteristics--its rhetoric, so to speak, but 
these criteria no more invite isolationist deification than they 
condone aesthetic Tomism. I say let's hear no more: "Either the 
Tolkien trilogy is a novel . . . or it is not worth a second 
glance." No more: "The condition of the science fiction hero 
will remain that of a poorly drawn character within a weak lit- 
erary style. No more: "I feel that science fiction is an 
exception to the general rule" that writers should avoid cliche's.^ 
No more: "This [ Gulliver's Travels ] is work of a minor order. 

It cannot compare to King Lear or to Paradise Lost "; and, ironic- 
cally, also from the Panshins, "the mimetic novel has reached a 
dead end." In short, I say no more elitism- -paranoid or patroniz- 
ing. 

What do I want to hear? Is this another jeremiad about the 
critical wasteland? Well, I hope not. 


73 



Judith Merril concluded her "What Do You Mean: Science/ 
Fiction" article by lamenting that there is "no adequate critical 
vocabulary, as yet, with which to make wise statements about a 
literature so new-born. My feeling is that not only does her 
own article imaginatively belie her pessimism, but so do Extrapo - 
lation , Riverside , Foundation , et £l. For therein are the con- 
crete signs of the healthy critical attention which sf has long 
deserved and has only recently begun to receive: studies, all 
kinds of studies: archetypal and bibliographical, historical 
and rhetorical, mythopoeic and socio-political, anthropological 
and psychological, biographical and S 3 mibolical, philosophical 
and aesthetic--you name it. 


With New Criticism retired emeritus , literature is now be- 
ginning to prove, as Frye pointed out in his Anatomy , that it is 
quintessentially polysemous, that it contains multitudes. Ideally 
sf will participate in the Great Critical Awakening and a genuine 
critical pluralism will prevail. Already, The Time Machine has 
been analyzed from several different, supplementary--not con- 
f licting--points of view; and it seems more solid than ever for 
the experience. Certainly if there is any single work which can 
withstand divergent critical approaches, it is The Lord of the 
Rings . As Clifford Simak wisely said: "The field is large and 
there is room for all of us and for each of our personal view- 


points 


ii7 


There just has to be room for both 0*Hare and O'Connor. 


Notes 

^''The Study of Poetry," Essays in Criticism , second series, ed. 

S. R. Littlewood (London: 1960), pp. 81-82. 

2 

T. S. Eliot, "Arnold and Pater," Selected Essays , new ed. (New 
York: 1960), p. 384. 

3 

Alexe Panshin, "The World Beyond the Hill," Extrapolation , 13 
(May 1972), p. 138. 

4 

Robert J. Barthell, "SF: A Literature of Ideas," Extrapolation , 
13 (December 1971), p. 62. 

^Harry Harrison also talks about how "too much can be made of 
artistic language" in his Foreword to "Nightfall," in The 
Mirror of Infinity , ed. Robert Silverberg (New York: 1970), 
p. 52. 

^SF : The Other Side of Realism , ed. Thomas D, Clareson (Bowling 
Green: 1971), p. 95. 

^Clifford Simak, "Room Enough for All of Us," Extrapolation , 13 
(May 1972), p. 104. 

Lowell Technological Institute 
Lowell, Mass, 01854 


74 


New Wave, Old Ocean: 

A Comparative Study of 
Novels by Brunner and 
Delany* 

^ David Samuelson 

The "New Wave" in science fiction has been credited with many 
virtues and damned for many sins. Harlan Ellison continually pro- 
claims the coming of the millennium, advertising himself as its 
prophet, but offers weak support for his claims for literary ex- 
cellence, political engagement, or dangerous visions. Others 
have been equally shortsighted--quite recently, Isaac Asimov--in 
their condemnation of tendencies away from the spirit of science 
toward sex-and-sadism, nihilism, or art-for-art * s-sake.^ Each 
side, it seems to me, is as guilty as the other; both are as prone 
to oversimplification as were the slick magazine writers of the 
1950’s, vho "discovered" a dozen anthologies or novels, and ex- 
plained the \diole phenomenon of science fiction in a couple of 
thousand words. 

As artistic reflections of our society--its tendencies, types, 
and excesses --individual works of science fiction are always slip- 
ping over neat categorical boundaries into "non- fictional" hypoth- 
esis on the one side, and "irrational" fantasy on the other; and 
vaunted claims for the art, or craft, of science fiction as liter- 
ature are frequently shipwrecked on the rocks of commercial prac- 
tice--!. e ., that which sells. Assuming, as an "ideal type" of 
creative origins, that an author begins with something derived 
from neutral extrapolation, we can see that he then has to turn 
this idea or set of ideas into a story, idiich must involve him 
with traditional materials, if he is to make his vision felt or 
experienced, and not simply proven, as is a mathematical equation. 
His consideration of social effects usually gives a utopian or 
dystopian dimension to the story, but also involves him to some 
extent in the attitudes of individuals (characters, narrator, hy- 
pothetical readers). Whatever else the recent literature may 
show, it certainly demonstrates an awareness of psychology, to 
some extent as a science or para- science, but definitely as an 
element in the procei^s of communication, as is shown most clearly 
in the recent stress on character and style, metaphor and myth. 


*An embryonic version of this paper was delivered at the 
1971 convention of the Philological Association of the Pacific 
Coast in Riverside, California, under the title, "The Shape of 
Science Fiction in the Sixties." 


75 


If this emphasis practically eliminates extrapolation within the 
bounds of scientific knowledge, as in recent works by Roger 
Zelazny, we may no longer have science fiction, but we will have 
some idea of where its borders lie. If it leads to the replacement 
of certain pulp conventions of the 1930 's by equally stereotyped 
conventions borrowed from other literature, as in Piers Anthony's 
Chthon . we are probably no worse off than before. If it leads to 
an intensification of the emotional experience associated with sci- 
ence fiction as a way of seeing, I think we are immeasurably en- 
riched. 

One object of writing science fiction, after all, is to be 
read. In their missionary moods at least, science fiction writers 
and fans, editors and teachers, want these books to be read by 
other people, too, and to be read with understanding, at both in- 
tellectual and emotional levels. If one is to be read, one must 
appeal to the prejudices of prospective readers to some extent, 
even in order to get them to put those prejudices aside. In "main- 
stream” literature, the best-seller and the "contemporary classic” 
don't necessarily appeal to the same person. In what literary 
critics and scholars are pleased to call "subliterature,” the same 
attractions don't necessarily draw readers to Westerns, sea stories, 
spy stories, or mysteries. Similarly, in science fiction, the 
readers who are attracted to engineering tales don’t always approve 
of fantasy/allegory, while the blood-and- thunder adventure fans 
don’t always like dystopias and stories of world catastrophe. Yet 
something ties them together, each can encroach upon or illuminate 
the others, and each can be handled with more or less finesse, 
depth of feeling, and meaning. 

The Andromeda Strain and 2001: A Space Odys s ev have been quite 
popular, in book as well as movie form. Although neither may qual- 
ify as a classic in the eyes either of an sf afficionado or of a 
mature critic of literature or cinema, they are a far cry from Buck 
Rogers and the traditional monster movie. They are also quite dif- 
ferent from the dystopian forms many professors of literature have 
held up so long as models for sf to emulate. The wide appeal of 
these two films /novels shows how far contemporary mass audiences 
have come in two or three decades, in their attitudes toward sci- 
ence fiction and certain hypothetical treatments of science, tech- 
nology, and the future.^ The principle of hypothesis, however, 
allows for far different treatments of all three. No law demands 
that science fiction be optimistic, that it be heavily laced with 
scientific theory and explanation, that it be devoid of real human 
psychology (including treatment of sex), or that it be safely non- 
controversial; it may be any of these, or their opposites. 

One thing the New Wave has done, I think, is to give the lie 
to every closed definition of what science fiction is, by taking 
seriously the implications of the assumption that science fiction 
is (among other things) literature. Hypothetical changes in tech- 
nology and society are not the only lines available along which to 
extrapolate from reality to fantasy. Nor are simplistic narrative 


76 


forms, cliche-ridden styles, and naturalistic assumptions the only 
media through which science fictions can be presented to the 
public(s)« But neither are these things absolutely to be shunned, 
or a writer may lose one audience before he has developed another. 
In broadening science fiction, the writers of the new generation 
have built upon, not eschewed, the achievements of their predeces- 
sors; they have added an awareness both of a world of life and let- 
ters beyond the sf ghetto and of definite relationships between 
that world and the themes and possibilities which identify science 
fiction. 

Like any abstraction, this description of the "New Wave" de- 
mands some specific details to back it up, to demonstrate even its 
partial validity. "New Wave" and science fiction alike are abstract 
categories, which are not identical with what they summarize: in- 
dividual books located at varying points on a wide spectrum, no one 
of which may match completely even the most useful general terms. 
Two significant examples, opposite from each other in many respects, 
may serve to illustrate the broadening of science fiction by the 
"New Wave." Stand on Zanzibar (1968) by John Brunner exhibits many 
features of literary Naturalism, whereas The Einstein Intersection 
(1967) by Samuel R. ("Chip") Delany is deeply indebted to literary 
Symbolism, but they are similar in their acceptance of the impli- 
cations of seeing sf as literature.^ Both novels display the com- 
mercial pace and exotic flavor of popular adventure fiction, as 
well as the relatively neutral extrapolation from present-day sci- 
ence and technology \diich distinguishes science fiction from other 
literature, in general. Both novels also display the moral tough- 
ness, artistic integrity, and awareness of a complex world of life 
and literature outside science fiction vdiich are common to the "New 
Wave," in particular. Their similarities and their differences 
may tell us something about the forms of science fiction, and also 
about the limits of categories. 


Stand on Zanzibar 

A big book, containing some 200,000 words. Stand on Zanzibar 
is a study in future probabilities, presented in a form which might 
be called a display of super-realism, inundating the reader with 
details about the people and things it describes in such a way as 
to give him the feel of living in the overcrowded world of 2010. 
Clearly an extension of the present stage of Western civilization, 
this world suffers from things ours suffers from, projected forward 
in time a little, sometimes so little as to be frighteningly close. 
While not a complete world, of course, it is a remarkably full and 
coherent one, whose most trivial details seem to belong, supporting 
Brunner's plots and themes. 

The central theme is overpopulation, which exerts causal 
forces on almost everything else. Even in the United States, over- 


77 



population is a reality, causing shortages in living space, limi- 
tations on breeding, and concomitant changes in social mores. 
Relatively well-to-do young men must share a young executive apart- 
ment; many young girls ("shiggies") hop from lover to lover, mainly 
to get a roof over their heads. Since sex has been largely divorc^ 
from procreation, its availability is advertised more than ever: 
current fashions include pants with codpieces, **Maxcess" or maximal 
access female attire. Laws to limit breeding are reinforced by 
popular mores, causing distress to couples intent on having children 
or unfortunately blessed with more than the norm. We are shown, 
for example, one couple's attempt to circumvent their genetic de- 
fect, color-blindness; a black market operation in adoption; and 
the vigilante-style killing of a Catholic who has twins as well as 
an earlier child. 

Relations between people and between peoples have not advanced, 
as is evidenced by racial and international tensions being continu- 
ally near the flash-point. Occasional blacks make it big, putting 
up with racial slurs and mistreatment of their "brothers”; others 
exercise territorial rights over city neighborhoods, where civil 
war can erupt if whites and/or cops appear. Nuclear war is unthink- 
able, but international rivalry still thrives, and little wars con- 
tinue to rage, both hot and cold. One young man we witness in the 
throes of being drafted, not that there's anything better for him 
to do; other superfluous men trip out continually on drugs, or 
come back from wartime training with the means and will to engage 
in acts of sabotage which are directed at almost any monument of 
the technocratic Establishment. 

Technological developments have been encouraged in some direc- 
tions, not in others. Pacifiers are in, including research into 
better varieties of marijuana, vhich is in widespread use. An at- 
tachment to a television set permits viewers to identify themselves 
with "Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere"; this vicarious travel cuts down on 
the use of means of transportation. Personal cars are rare, out- 
lawed from city streets perhaps more to ensure civic peace than to 
reduce pollution; other forms of transport are fast, but are re- 
served for relatively few travellers. Anything which will increase 
the yield of raw materials is followed up at fabulous expense, as 
is illustrated by the Middle Atlantic Mining Project of the vast 
conglomerate. General Technics. And research into genetic manipu- 
lation is being pursued fanatically; a breakthrough in this line 
in an Asian country triggers much of the action of the novel's 
second half. 

Lest the reader should miss the social, or contemporary, sig- 
nificance of these developments Brunner comments on the action 
explicitly, both by means of quotations from and references to 
newspaper and magazine articles contemporary with us and by means 
of statements of his characters, especially Chad Mulligan, the 
"house radical" of Brunner's version of Western Civilization. Long 
before we meet Mulligan in person, we know him as a fictional com- 
bination of Robert Ardrey and C, Wright Mills, because of the wit. 


78 



wide-ranging observations, and hectoring style of excerpts from his 
books which Brunner relays to us. The representative character of 
concrete, specific actions is constantly kept before us, even be- 
fore the specific illustrations are provided. The result is a 
broad perspective on events, such that what might otherwise be 
simple dystopian satire takes the form more of a matter-of-fact 
prediction that this is the way it well may be. Clear, but muted, 
this warning is presented in a less melodramatic way than that of 
the classic dystopian novels of the century. 

The chief advance of Brunner's book over its predecessors in 
science fiction lies in its technique, although it is hardly revo- 
lutionary. Suggesting at one point that his book should be read 
as a mosaic, calling it elsewhere a "non-novel," Brunner has given 
us a McLuhanized modification of the Dos Passes technique of inter- 
weaving, creating an ever-changing background of people, things, 
and events in chapters categorized as "Context," "The Happening 
World," and "Tracking with Closeups." "Cent ext" exp lores social 
theory, often via excerpts from works by Chad Mulligan. "The Hap- 
pening World" charts newsworthy day-to-day events across the world, 
in a tv- script- format which gives both news items and advertise- 
ments and at least suggests that they have equal claims to repre- 
sent reality. "Tracking with Closeups" comprises short biographi- 
cal sketches of representative characters from a vast and mainly 
anonymous population. All three kinds of background material inter- 
act with the main stories, sometimes by direct relations such as 
commentary or shared personalities, always by means of counterpoint 
and juxtaposition. The use of terms and concepts from the visual 
mass media provides a sense of immediacy, like that of our own tv 
screens which give the same vivid reality to past culture and 
present civilization, legend and fact, disaster and cold remedy; 
but this effect does not make the novel a film- script, as Norman 
Spinrad suggests.^ The effect is distinctly literary, word-bound, 
a logical contemporary parallel with the epic simile and catalog 
of Homer and his successors; as in the epic, any number of items 
could be replaced by others, but the effect would be the same be- 
cause of the sheer mass of details thrown at us in a relatively 
short span. 

Against this background, in chapters cinematically categorized 
as "Continuity," Brunner tells the stories of three men. Norman 
House is a rising young black executive with General Technics. 

Donald Hogan, his room-mate, is a government researcher (an inter- 
disciplinary specialist looking throu^ research literature for 
connections), who becomes transformed into a fighting machine in 
order to carry out a specific act of espionage. Chad Mulligan is 
recycled from alcoholic cynicism to find out the secret of peace- 
fulness possessed by natives of a backward African country. Pat- 
terned on familiar commercial fiction, these stories are somevhat 
more than the escapist pabulum that they resemble superficially. 

Norman House may rise to the top like a Harold Robbins hero, 
but his success is more than a little tinged with the taste of 


79 



ashes. Partly because he*s black (the *'house Afram" in the GT 
executive woodpile), and partly because he’s in the right place at 
the right time, he finds himself entrusted with making a profit 
for GT in its "impossible” mid-Atlantic venture. Only a "miracle" 
saves him, as Mulligan uses his imagination to program the GT super- 
computer, Shalmaneser, to use its imagination, A hero for the 
moment, Norman knows it’s only temporary; the world is still coming 
apart at the seams, and this "awakening" of Shalmaneser has even 
more dangerous implications. Treated humorously by Brunner near 
the end of the book, Shalmaneser’s new consciousness is paralleled 
with that of the junkie, Bennie Noakes, who keeps telling himself 
in his dazed paralysis, "Christ, what an imagination I’ve gotl"-- 
but the self-awareness of machines is a traditional Gothic night- 
mare theme for science fiction. 

Donald Hogan, after being "eptified," finds he enjoys the 
Superman side of his old Clark Kent image. Unlike James Bond, how- 
ever, he has a conscience, a memory of his lost innocence, and a 
consciousness of the world that lies outside his escapades. Kid- 
naping involves real people, and adventures can result in failure 
rather than success. Partly because he is not perfectly programmed, 
he loses his kidnap victim to suicide and sees the blood as being 
on his hands. Unable to shrug it off cynically, like a Len Deighton 
or John Le Carre anti-hero, he can only reconcile himself to him- 
self by schizophrenically fencing off his old self from the machine 
he sees his new self as, Donald Hogan Mark II, 

Chad Mulligan’s triumphs, both specifically science -fictional 
in nature, are especially ironic, given his long-standing view of 
man as an incredible botch and botcher -up of everything. Having 
come back to "constructive" life against his better judgment, he 
helps to reprogram Shalmaneser, the excitement of solving the 
problem giving way to reluctance only upon later reflection. Then 
he proceeds to the disappointing discovery of the secret of Beninia. 
The Beninian’s sweat-glands, it turns out, give off a tranquilizing 
scent, 'vdiich GT will be able to synthesize, make money from, and 
use for the betterment of mankind, if that’s what a further delay 
of global suicide really is. The discovery of this mechanistic 
answer gives a superb antic limactic effect to the ending of this 
adventure and to the novel, for it also seems a symptom of man’s 
inability to reach the decent stage of maturity and intelligence 
which would really insure his survival. 

All three stories , and shorter stories interspersed , reflect 
the unfavorable effects upon character and the quality of life that 
result not just from overpopulation, but also from a business civ- 
ilization, The competitive ethic dies hard, Brunner seems to 
suggest, at least in management (military, industrial, or govern- 
mental), and its results affect adversely even those who are not 
oriented toward competition. Each of the protagonists pursues a 
direct path to get the job done, even if he knows that the personal 
rewards are mirages. Each of them knows he should pause, think, 
maybe not go through with what he’s doing, but the carrot dangles 

80 


irresistibly at the end of the stick, and he almost forgets to 
wonder idio, or ^at, holds on to the other end of the stick. The 
compulsive need for efficiency, for perfect order, for mechanistic 
answers, is a shadowy villain in this world, as represented by the 
mysterious "government" that employs Don Hogan in both of his ca- 
pacities (and turns him into a machine). It is personified on a 
fantasy level by Shalmaneser, the miniaturized, perfected, and hu- 
manized computer; and on a more realistic level, by Georgette 
Tallon, titular head of GT, whose wish for immortality is embodied 
in her many transplanted organs, as well as in the company which 
bears her initials. 

Brunner makes it reasonably clear that these are not the kinds 
of perfection we should be aiming for, if indeed we should be aiming 
for any. The structure and philosophy which shape his book, how- 
ever, imitating those which shape the world, seem to lead inevit- 
ably to pessimistic conclusions. Following out any trend toward 
its furthest implications may be dystopian, resulting in stagnation 
or catastrophe if taken seriously, reducing history and human life 
to absurdity if viewed from Olympian heights, though perhaps evoking 
misery and tragedy from the viewpoint of those involved.® Certainly 
those trends on idiich Brunner concentrates have pessimistic promise, 
but his society of 2010 is still not the worst of all possible 
worlds, just a muddling progress toward it, based quite distinctly 
on extrapolation from events, currents, and theories evident in 
the mid- 1960 *3.^ 

Extrapolation, along futurological lines, is in keeping with 
the methods and assumptions of literary naturalism. The world 
which can be known is that which can be observed from outside, the 
world of things and overt behavior, and naturalism generally re- 
lates these empirical realities to an assumption of determinable 
causes, in keeping with scientific theory of the time. Projection 
then proceeds from an assumed norm to calculable implications with- 
in an essentially closed system, a "surprise-free environment" as 
Kahn terms it, A "naive curve" for a particular trend may suggest 
unlimited progress, but more sophisticated "systems analysis" re- 
veals built-in limits and contradictions. Thus, for all the appar- 
ent optimism of Kahn and Toffler regarding increasing affluence, 
their books are taken pessimistically by a great number of readers, 
especially those concerned with population pressures (Ehrlich) , the 
depletion of natural resources (the Club of Rome), and the "quality 
of life" (including dystopian novelists, and other humanists con- 
cerned with preserving the "good" of the past and even the pres- 
ent).^® And the world Brunner depicts is not far from the "corpo- 
rate fantasy" many futurists fear and would like to ward off, but 
cannot, X suspect, as long as they stick to a fairly rigid natural- 
ism. 


What*s missing in any surprise -free environment are, of course, 
the elements of surprise. Though deterministic projectors pay lip 
service to the idea that breakthroughs may occur which negate at 
least some part of their predictions- -Kahn and Wiener even offer 

81 



"alternate scenarios" differing from their "basic, long-range, mani- 
fold trend" — their commitment to their charts can be strong enough 
to make them ignore parts of the territory they can't accommodate 
on their maps. Thus in Stand on Zanzibar . Brunner, as a "systems 
designer," takes care to avoid the use of existing names of nations, 
while assuming that one Asian power will be in conflict with the 
United States ("Yatakang” seems close to Indonesia geographically, 
China in other ways), and that one backward African nation will 
still be friendly and exploitable. But he seems to have missed 
completely the phenomenon known as Women's Liberation and to have 
assumed no significant change in the domination of the West by a 
white, male, "Consciousness II" power elite. A major change 
there, or in the influence of religion as a meaningful part of 
modern life, would upset a number of other projections, but neither 
can be strictly calculated. True, alternate ways of seeing actually 
are suggested, but their influence seems to be negligible: no vic- 
tory is imaginable for the radical social consciousness of Mulligan, 
nor the more traditional humanism of black elder statesmen Elihu 
Masters and Zadkiel Obomi. And the minor fantasies spun of drugs, 
of fashions, and of art are seen as little but flotsam and jetsam 
in the background, incapable of affecting the "one- dimensional" 
self-image of Western man.^^ 

As a novelist, to be sure, Brunner is less in the business of 
prediction than he is in the pursuit of art and entertainment, con- 
cerned not so much with a genuine picture of what tomorrow will 
bring as with the creation of a coherent illusion, a fantasy based 
on fact. To this occupation he brings a mastery of the tools of 
commercial fiction, as well as something more. His style is on the 
edge of being colorless; "unexceptional and unexceptionable" Spinrad 
calls it, but that is fitting insofar as it places the world, not 
the writer, in the foreground. Yet Brunner does not just retreat 
to a position from which only his "editing" is visible; his style 
does vary, though the underlying tone of irony is consistently re- 
inforced by wit whether offered as poem, lecture, epigram, or chap- 
ter title. Besides the satire, there is even laughter. One man's 
humor may be another’s heartburn, but even his jokes work for me, 
unlike the banal repartee which so often passes for humor in sci- 
ence fiction. 

All of his people are variations on stock character types, 
but variations with some intelligence, not just mindless automatons 
ruled by exigencies of plot. There is melodrama in any crisis sit- 
uation, of course, and Brunner is trying to represent a society in 
which crises can result at any moment, even from situations and 
events that to us, today, are still normal (touring a building, 
taking a walk, even having a baby). "Muckers" (ordinary people 
who run amuck and start killing) are with us today, in a way, as 
are mercenary saboteurs; in 2010, these are ordinary events of 
everyday life. Some things are included for pure sensationalism, 

I suspect (two incestuous relationships, for example), but it takes 
quite a bit to shock a reader in a world of continuing crisis. And 
there are some moments of quiet reflection, in the protagonists’ 
lives of adventure and in sketches of minor characters, which point 

82 


up still more the apparent perpetual motion of life around them. 

It is not that so much is actually happening, as that what is 
happening, even on a mundane level, is something to which the 
reader is not accustomed, and every event is regarded as repre- 
sentative of dozens, even thousands, of others. This illustrative 
character of people and situations results in their being flattened 
out; their abstract, more than their concrete, nature is stressed. 
Brunner appeals more to our intelligence than to our emotions, 
depending on our quickness to recognize the meaning of his sketches 
and juxtapositions, rather than forcing our feelings by the strength 
of his style. Thus he builds up his world primarily by exposition, 
with very little significant action before the party T^ich occupies 
the middle of the book, a set-piece which accomplishes a number of 
things: it establishes the boredom of high society, which has be- 
gun to imitate the dress and ways of the 20th century; it brings 
Norman, Don, and Chad together with other important figures; and it 
is interrupted by the telecast news of an Asian breakthrough in ge- 
netic manipulation which sets off the three protagonists on their 
quests. The party, the characters, the adventures, the sketches, 
all serve the purpose of the whole: the illusion of a whole world, 
spinning madly along, with only the reader aware of what went wrong. 

The overall effect is that the reader is surrounded by the 
details of this imagined world of 2010, that he feels the chaos of 
sense impressions from this world much as he experiences those of 
his own, but without the underpinnings of his own world; i.e., the 
sense of stability in other areas that makes a specific change fit 
in. In a word, what Brunner has done is to package the malaise of 
accelerated change which is at the center of Toffler's book. Future 
Shock . And for this purpose, the "entertainment" value of commer- 
cial style, characters, and events is for many readers a virtue of 
Stand on Zanzibar . The reader has to work to put together the 
fragmented pieces of this unfamiliar world, to understand their 
relationships to each other and to himself. If he also had to 
concern himself with subtleties of character and arabesques of 
style, with stop-and- start narrators who deny the literal truth 
of what they are trying to tell, the audience for this book would 
be extremely limited. Yet Brunner has taken dead aim on some ex- 
cesses in our present society and some trends extrapolated from 
them, and he has taken us on his time machine to see them working 
themselves out. He has also adopted some "modernist" literary 
techniques to confront the complexity of the problem, thus reaching 
out to three prospective audiences for science fiction: the tradi- 
tional "fan" community, the social critics, and the students of 
modern literature. 


The Einstein Intersection 

Whereas Brunner’s novel is clearly in the main stream of 
dystopian science fiction (objections to it have been based on its 

83 



being ”too real," too close to the present), and less obviously 
part of the "New Wave" (it first appeared, greatly abridged, in the 
avant-garde British sf magazine. New Worlds ^ and its format is ob- 
viously related to literary modernism), the opposite is true for 
Delany's novel. While it is apparently appropriate to group The 
Einstein Intersection with other writings of the "New Wave" — be- 
cause of its attention to style and literary considerations, to 
myth and metaphor- -a basic controversy about the novel is whether 
it is really science fiction or fantasy. Brief, allusive, optimis- 
tic, romantic, and surrealistic --whereas Brunner’s book is long, 
exhaustive, pessimistic, ironic, and naturalistic--Delany *s novel 
is literally worlds apart from Stand on Zanzibar . The differences 
as well as the similarities between the two works may tell us some- 
thing about the nature of science fiction, or at least the contem- 
porary practice of it, if we can admit The Einstein Intersection 
to the canon. 

Ostensibly set some 30,000 to 50,000 years in the future, on 
an Earth deserted by the human race. The Einstein Intersection 
describes the rite of passage of Lo Lobey, a member of an alien 
race which is trying to adapt itself to the bodies, the social 
forms, and the life-styles of "the Old People" (that’s us). Dark, 
squat, and ugly, with wide hips, shaggy legs, prehensile toes, and 
apelike arms, Lobey is not a conventional hero, even for science 
fiction. A fighter and a musician, equally adept with both ends 
of his prized possession, a machete with a flute in its handle, 

Lobey is gifted with a kind of e.s.p. that enables him to turn into 
melodies the emotions and thoughts in other people’s heads. This 
is part of his blessing, or curse, of being "different," lAiich soon 
engages him in a structured series of heroic adventures, exploring 
himself as well as the exotic world he lives in. 

So far in the future, and populated by an alien race, the 
Earth itself becomes a property of science fiction, a "world of 
romance" recognizable to us only because of remnants which are 
left of our culture, as it was, is, and possibly will be. Techno- 
logical relics exist, as represented by a form of television, space 
travel, at least one automobile, a supercomputer with an obnoxious 
personality, and a city with some familiar material living stan- 
dards; there is also a desert which, Lobey is told, used to be a 
great City of our times. Biological problems are apparent in the 
aliens’ attempt to take over our configurations: for one thing, 
they have had to adapt our bodies to their three "sexes," so some 
characters are biologically hermaphroditic; secondly, mutations of 
every kind keep cropping up, because of effects of radioactivity, 
misfits between our bodies and their essences, or both. "Non- 
functionals" are kept in a kage ( sic) and cared for, by a nurse of 
sorts in Lobey ’s village or by a computer’s beaming pleasant feeliiigs 
at them in the city of Branning-at-Sea. But true human norms are 
hard to come by in either place, as things keep changing, and even 
the appellations of "Lo," "La," and "Le," which still define sexual 
norms in a rural locale, are little more than aristocratic titles 
in an urban setting; among the dregs of society, these labels have 

84 


no use at all. To prevent the worsening of this "descent of man" 
by in-breeding, the aliens promote promiscuity: in Lobey*s village 
there's an orgy in the dark once a year; in the city, artificial 
insemination is practiced, copious records are kept, and an ad- 
vertising campaign reinforces spreading this genetic wealth around. 

The book contains, visibly enough, a number of props of sci- 
ence fiction, but does that make it a work of science fiction? Not 
if sf is defined narrowly, according to what I have called its 
ideal type--literature extrapolated from technological and social 
trends, along lines of probability, to a world consistent with 
natural law as we understand it. Possibly, according to Delany's 
definition: "Things that have not happened" but which could "in 
accord with xi^at we know of the physically explainable universe, 
Delany's setting is necessarily the future, but it is not so time- 
bound as Brunner's is; our present existed, and relics remain, but 
the time element is deliberately fuzzy, and there's no way to work 
out an inevitable progression from now to then. Some of the tech- 
nology is advanced from ours, but other bits and pieces of our 
past and present hardware are explainable, in sf terms, only by 
reference to Delany's central hypothesis. There are even events 
that would seem to be contrary to natural law, if his people were 
defined by the same limits that circumscribe human beings today in 
the world we know. His \diole illusion of reality is a very fragile 
apparatus completely dependent on our acceptance of the basic prin- 
ciple of his extrapolation. If in the 1953 terms once used by 
Isaac Asimov, Brunner's book is a "chess game" advancing from a de- 
finable present to a definable future, then Delany's is a "chess 
puzzle" in which most of the moves have been made before we got to 
look at the board. 

Delany has even gone further and developed new rules by which 
we and his characters must play, but there are rules. Simply put, 
he begins with a "what if" question: what if an alien race of 
"psychic manifestations" tried to reconstruct our world out of 
what we left for it. This is the sort of question that could 
easily lead to a simple allegory, about angels or devils, or other 
traditional creatures of supernatural myth, subject only to the 
limits of desire (positive or negative), and wearing the full rega- 
lia of apocalyptic or demonic imagery. But Delany suggests these 
beings are subject to natural law, poetically abstracted from bio- 
physics and social psychology. 1) Since they're inhabiting phy- 
sical bodies, more or less human, they are subject to human biology, 
including sexuality, corporeal pain, and physical death. All three 
cause Lobey, and others, considerable anguish. 2) Since they are 
"psychic manifestations," they have vhat to us would be "extra- 
sensory" powers, most obviously the abilities to exert physical 
force by mental effort (what we would call telekinesis), to read 
emotions or thoughts (telepathy), and to create sensory illusions 
(hypnotic projection?) . These abilities seem to be more common 
among Lobey 's generation and have something to do with their being 
called "different" in a world where everyone seems to us to be 
different from what we know. 3) Since they are trying to "be human, 

85 



they are torn by contradictions between their essentials and ours, 
they are continually experiencing bewildering changes, and they 
are seeking patterns by vdiich to make sense of, if not to exert 
control over, such change. Their chief invention, or rediscovery, 
for this purpose is a sense of social "role," the simple parameters 
of which are defined by the long-standing argument between the elders 
of Lobey*s village: "must change" vs. "must preserve," The 
most obvious patterns we left to them are stories defining relation- 
ships between men and men, man and his universe, man and god- -"myths" 
of which we left records in ritual, literature, and visual art. For 
them, as for us, these myths can either control or be controlled, 
depending on a person *s awareness of his role. The cycle need not 
be closed, the myth need not be relived to its bitter ending; the 
potential for Lobey, as for his entire culture, lies in the recog- 
nition that everything is not the same, that everyone is, in one 
sense or another, "different." 

The basic explanation of this third "law" supplies the novel 
with its title. Human beings left Earth, Lobey is told, when their 
understanding of the irrational equalled their comprehension of the 
rational, when imagination matched reason, at what Delany*s raison - 
neur . Spider, calls the intersection of the Einsteinian conception 
of the limits of knowable truth with the Goedelian -^^ conception of 
"an infinite number of true things in the world with no way of as- 
certaining their truth" (pp. 116-117), The New People came to an 
Earth dominated apparently by this latter principle, took over the 
humans* "bodies, their souls--both husks abandoned here for any 
wanderer's taking" (p. 117), Thus a mathematical proof, inter- 
preted poetically, offers another reason why everything's changing, 
not only then but now. Did the human race blow itself up, take off 
in physical or spiritual form, leaving behind its dead, perhaps 
also its living dead? These are all possible pasts for the world 
of this book, which is understandably fuzzy about when it all hap- 
pened, although certain that something did. It may be true that 
"there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in 
your philosophy," but it's also apparent that things do have ex- 
planations. Humans may be gone but humanity remains, and adjust- 
ment, then as now, depends not only on analyzing and understanding, 
but also on feeling and living, with appropriate modifications, 
the roles one is called upon to fill. 

That science is not all technology, and that reality may not 
be fully explicable on positivistic principles is as true in our 
world as in the world of The Einstein Intersection . And had Delany 
spelled out the above rules, somewhere near the beginning of the 
book, as extrapolations from "natural law," few readers of science 
fiction would have boggled at them, though many might have mis- 
understood them. There are "classics" of science fiction with much 
less rigor, and many more miracles, than this novel exhibits. But 
Delany did not spell them out- -or anything else; he chose instead 
to adopt a form and style in which illusion and reality are hard to 
separate, either on our own terms, using our personal experience 
and knowledge of science as criteria, or in terms of the criteria 
he set up for his fictional world. Lo Lobey, his narrator, does 

86 



not know the rules; his quest is largely a search for them, though 
he doesn't even know that till the very end of the book, if then. 

For him, and for us, his world is like that of a dream, in which 
his assumptions about reality are constantly being challenged, 
forcing him continually to reform his hypothesis in order to re- 
organize his experiences into a meaningful framework or context. 

Commercial fiction abounds in meaningless quests and adven- 
tures, and many writers of science fiction have limited their 
stories to little more than a recapitulation of ancient myths, in 
which alleged archetypes look more like familiar stereotypes. 
Delany's success, where others have failed, seems to result from a 
conscious manipulation of all the tools at his disposal. He has 
understood that the mythical heroic quest is essentially a psycho- 
logical journey and, like Joseph Campbell, he has realized that 
myths are useful only as analogies for experience, not as limiting 
models or paradigms; i.e., archetypes may or may not relate to 
something eternal in human psychology, but their representations 
in other times and places do not define psychology for us.^^ He 
has recognized the analogous functions of myths and of expressions 
of contemporary popular culture, including science fictions, both 
as elements of belief and as literary motifs. He has subordinated 
archetype and stereotype, poetry and cliche, history and legend, 
to a central personal vision; they are equally real as counters of 
the imagination, and equally useful in putting together a tentative, 
growing view of the world. He has extended the principle of ex- 
trapolation by analogy to his mode of presentation; the reader must 
learn to see this imaginary world through words that constantly 
make comparisons, confuse reality and illusion, and seem to wonder 
at their own expressiveness, Delany has preached that the medium 
is the message, or more precisely that "Put in opposition to 'style,* 
there is no such thing as 'content .* Here he consciously applies 
that principle, using techniques and insights visible in such modern 
visionary books as Finnegans Wake and Giles Goat -Boy , without either 
seeming derivative of them or leaving the adventure format and 
simple language of commercial science fiction. 

The book is short, no more than 50,000 words; the pace is 
fast, with so many adventures per chapter that the unwary reader 
may not notice that the primacy of event is only superficial. Each 
episode in this ostensibly traditional odyssey is sketched quickly 
by means of vivid images that gather clusters of meanings around 
them in changing contexts. And it*s the meanings that Delany would 
have us dig at, if we are to enjoy his work more fully. Most ob- 
viously, meaning is expanded by the interplay of myths, through 
which Lobey interprets and reinterprets his experiences. But con- 
sidered as motifs, or psychological analogies, these myths are also 
intertwined with images from our present, the cliche's and stereo- 
types of our popular culture, and the properties of science fiction. 
Myths and motifs alike are filtered through Delany *s style, which 
renders impressions by suggestive details and metaphors and conveys 
the wonder of just being alive? of possessing five senses (or more), 
and of being able to set things down in words. Finally, the epi- 

87 



grams which start each chapter, far from being excresences or pre- 
tentious commentary, provide a valuable sense of counterpoint, re- 
directing our attention to the relevance of this book to the 
present--if not to all of us, at least to one particular person, 
Delany, apparently involved in living out certain elements of the 
novel , 

The mythic dimensions are too complex to be worked out fully, 
here, but their outlines can be suggested, Lobey finds he and other 
main characters are living out myths of Earth’s past, with varia- 
tions depending on conscious awareness and context- -and more than 
one context may be involved at a given time. Like Orpheus, Lobey 
works enchantment with music and seeks to regain a lost love from 
death; like Theseus, he slays a man-bull and tries to find the 
thread which will lead him from his maze. Unlike them, Lobey has 
their examples to learn from, if he can; when Spider has pointed 
out his power of choice, Lobey still sees two tales through to 
their ends, before choosing to exercise his power to affect his own 
destiny. An artist as well as an adventurer, Lobey communicates 
with us in words as he does with others in music, in each case 
taking the thoughts of others to rearrange and compose in parallel 
with his reliving of myths. 

The choices of myths don’t stop with ancient Greece, of course; 
they include figures from other "fictional worlds," and could go 
far beyond the analogues shown us in this novel. Kid Death is Hades, 
Lucifer, and Billy the Kid; Spider is Iscariot, Pat Garrett, and 
Minos; the Dove is "Helen of Troy, Star Anthim, Mario [ sic ] Montez, 
Jean Harlow" (p. 122); Lobey is explicitly Orpheus, Theseus, Elvis 
Presley, Ringo Starr- -and, implicitly, Adam, Prometheus, Tristan, 
Odysseus, Pan, and a stereotyped black musician. Either the con- 
cept of the archetype is being extended to the absurd or these 
configurations are being used as counters in a surrealistic game, 
or both. References to madness, dream, and folly are common, as 
is their association with wisdom or at least self-knowledge. Kid 
Death and the Dove are both presented as masters of illusion whom 
Lobey must overcome with his music, subordinating love and death to 
art before he can move on (physically in the last words of the 
novel--psychologically, and literarily, too, in order to tell his 
tale). The illusion that lasts is that of a "real" world of sci- 
ence fiction, a future vantage-point from which the narrator can 
deal self-consciously with resemblances between it and the worlds 
of Greek myth. Wild West legend, and the adulation of pop musicians. 

Delany’s style also demonstrates his conscious subjugation of 
his tools. His diction is simple, direct, composed largely of 
short, active verbs; precise, concrete nouns; and vivid, but sparsely 
used adjectives. His sentence structure is usually short, with 
occasional effective use of parentheses. Thus the surface story 
zips by at a ridiculously fast pace, if the reader doesn’t pick up 
on the images and their reverberations. Conversations, even ob- 
ligatory lectures, are rendered in colloquial American, idiomatic 
right down to the slang, cliche'^s, and incomplete sentences of the 

88 



apocryphal average man, but with a spare poetry reminiscent of the 
highly selective use of Gaelicized English in the plays of Synge. 
Description and narration make more use of parenthesis, antithesis, 
anticlimax, understatement, metaphor s, and tricks of rhythm, as 
Lobey/Delany experiments with both the sound of words and the uses 
of style and rhetoric in order to convey the wonder of not just an 
alien world, but perhaps more accurately a world such as we know, 
experienced anew, through a sensibility slightly askew. More 
than anything, the style evokes the joy of being young and alive, 
self-confidently learning how to experience life, in a world which 
recreates itself in the imagination with every changing moment. It 
is not for nothing that Lobey, like Delany, is young, black, and an 
artist, a member of three minorities for whom it seems the rules 
are changed as fast as they get the hang of them, but these facts 
are turned into assets, not liabilities, in the world of the novel. 

The personal dimension of the story is illustrated most ob- 
viously by Delany *s rich use of epigrams, ^ich comment on the 
action and extend its meanings. The first chapter's quotations 
from Finnegans Wake and "In Praise of Folly” adumbrate the dimen- 
sions of Delany *s theme and techniques; others, ranging from De 
Sade to Revelation ^ from Bob Dylan to Plotinus, indicate not just 
the range of his readings, but also their influences on his vision. 
Althou^ some have quite specific applications to events and char- 
acters in the book, all, I think, have relevance to its general 
meanings; like Brunner's interwoven chapters, they provide back- 
ground and "contexts," different ways of seeing and experiencing 
what is there for everyone to sense and comprehend. Selections 
from the "Author's Journal" add to all this the illusion of our 
living with Delany, rummaging through Europe and its people, through 
the works of all these writers, and through the stories of the folk, 
to find many contexts in which to express his personal vision of his 
story. 


For it is a personal vision that emerges from this tangle, a 
vision of life as process, in which a mind incorporates the worlds 
which it beholds, conveying to the reader the possibility of his 
own creation of order out of chaos. Ifyth and symbol, life and 
literature, art and advertising, history and science all go into 
the forming of a dynamic equilibrium, adapting to and incorporating 
into itself changes in viewpoint and new experiences. The flux is 
real, and even the universals may change, but the sense of personal- 
ity, of a single consciousness, preserves continuity. This uniting 
of contraries, this cycle which actually becomes a spiral because 
the mind on each new round is conscious of the rounds before, may 
have been borrowed from Joseph Campbell, whose version of compara- 
tive mythology attempts to unite psychology, anthropology, and lit- 
erary criticism. Certainly Delany is indebted to numerous great 
writers \dio, before him, also presented these concepts in terms of 
analogies with music; he pays tribute of a sort to Dante, Eliot, 
Joyce, and Yeats. But Delany 's metaphor is not of stately rhythms 
or music of the spheres; his feeling for improvisational music is 
central to his vision. 


89 


Lobey recognizes the Toreador song from Carmen ^ when it*s 
whistled by the computer PHAEDRA [sic]; a Kodaly sonata, which he 
does not recognize, he steals from Spider’s head; but he learned 
to make music by listening to such old ”hymns*’ as "Bill Bailey," 
on 45 *s and 33 ’s (an image "realistically" odd but mathematically 
apt). At times of stress, Lobey improvises his own music out of 
his own emotions as well as the music and emotions of others; 
mourning for his lost love, Friza, he drums on his rock with his 
feet (recalling Ringo), gyrates his body (like Elvis, and Zorba?) , 
as well as playing the flute end of his machete. With his "ax," 
as Spider calls it, picking up the word’s slang connotation of mu- 
sical instrument, Lobey can destroy as well as create; the blood of 
the bull gets into the flute, and the music destroys certain illu- 
sions of love and death. Life and death are referred to as "the 
great rock and the great roll," and the message of Green-Eye (as 
Christ) that "there is no death, only love," is modulated through 
"there is no death, only rhythm," to emerge as "there is no death, 
only music." And the ritual (bullfighting) is never quite the same, 
the circle (phonograph record) is really a spiral (or gyre); if Bill 
Bailey (Lobey, Delany, anyone) ever returns, things are not the 
same, nor is he. 

"Endings to be useful must be inconclusive,” Delany quotes from 
the "Author’s Journal," in support of Lobey ’s decision at the end 
to keep wandering (living, facing change and the unknown): "As 
morning branded the sea, darkness fell away at the far side of the 
beach. I turned to follow it" (p. 142). One thing he has learned 
is the value of being "different," in many senses of the word: he 
is himself; he is more than the sum of his experiences; he is able 
to see with the eyes of an artist and to communicate that vision. 

In the conclusion to his book, as in its size and format, its style 
and attitude, Delany is at the opposite pole from Brunner; against 
the "corporate fantasy" of Stand on Zanzibar , with its closed system, 
deterministic extrapolation, and pessimistic conclusion. The Ein - 
stein Intersection appeals to the "individual fantasy" of expanding 
consciousness, improvised extrapolation, and an optimistic sense of 
the future as a continuing adventure. Delany’s way of dealing with 
"future shock," with the doom- laden sense of constant change, is to 
ride it, and to transcend it. 


The Parameters of Science Fiction 

The differences between these two books are immediately 
apparent. Each has been charged with being outside the supposed 
boundaries of science fiction, but in opposite directions; whereas 
Stand on Zanz ibar may seem too close, too much like real life to- 
The Einstein Intersection may seem too fantastic, unanchored 
in reality as understood by science. Such accusations I think 
false, though useful in that they tell us something about the 
attitudes of the accusers. The differences between these books 

90 



that I find meaningful are literary differences, and that in itself 
may be significant for a literature stereotyped by many as being 
composed by interchangeable writers. Their differences may not mark 
off definitively the boundaries of science fiction, but they do sug- 
gest a good deal about the nature and dimensions of the territory 
that lies between them. 

Both novels are clearly within the genre of science fiction as 
I understand it, extrapolating along lines of theoretical possi- 
bility, from the world we know and certain implications of that 
knowledge, to create an illusion of reality by describing beings, 
things, events we can be reasonably sure have not existed. Their 
visions are vastly different, largely because of each writer's as- 
sumptions about the nature of reality, which are embodied in 
opposing styles and tones. It would be a mistake to assume that 
only Brunner's view is scientific; its apparent realism is partly 
a matter of form and stance and partly an index of our commitment 
to scientism, to seeing ourselves as one -dimensional man.^^ If 
science is "sciencing," it is an activity which has plenty of room 
for fantasy, which demands intuition as well as programmed research 
and which strives to reduce, not deny the unknown. Both books are 
based on myths, in the sense of shared, unquestioned beliefs; and 
Brunner's, to me, is the more dangerously "escapist," if we must 
point fingers, in that it seems to allow us to escape the sense of 
personal responsibility. 

Both books also fall within the realm of commercial literature, 
like so much of science fiction in at least the past half-century, 
but with some differences. Simple diction, rapid pace, adventurous 
melodrama are clearly present, but do not circumscribe these books; 
readers with or without "literary taste" may enjoy them. Both are 
flawed, no doubt in different ways for different readers. Both will 
date, have dated already — Brunner’s "predictions" are already being 
overrun by events; Delany’s allusions include the ephemeral --but 
what does not? We do not shy away from the works of Verne, Wells, 
Stapledon, Zamiatin, Huxley, and Orwell because they are dated. We 
read them because each embodies well a vision; so do these. 

Traditionally, there have been two dominant styles in Western 
literature, described as follows by Erich Auerbach in Mimesis ; 

The two styles, in their opposition, represent basic types: 
on the one hand fully externalized description, uniform 
illumination, uninterrupted connection, free expression, 
all events in the foreground, displaying unmistakeable 
meanings, few elements of historical development and of 
psychological perspective; on the other hand, certain 
parts brought into high relief, others left obscure, 
abruptness, suggestive influence of the unexpressed, 
’background' quality, multiplicity of meanings and the 
need for interpretation, universal-historical claims, 
development of the concept of the universally becoming, 
and preoccupation with the problematic.^^ 

91 



The first type, that of Homer, has great potential for describing 
the surfaces of things; in modern times, its use has degenerated 
from the great nineteenth century novels labelled realist and 
naturalist to a kind of "stupid realism" found in so much tw^nrieth 
century popular literature (including most science fiction). ^ In 
the hands of its best practitioners, it has allowed for recognition 
of the inner life, and it has had abundant room for comedy, but it 
has usually supported an ironic, pessimistic view of man; viewed 
objectively, man does have to die, and has a remarkable propensity 
for making a mess of things. Adapted to fantasy, the realistic 
style requires, if it is to be successful, an attempt at building 
an entire world, piece by piece from the bottom up, and a size to 
match its grandiose scope, as in Stand on Zanzibar . 

The second type, that of which the Bible is Auerbach's touch- 
stone, can also be grandiose in conception, even more so than the 
first, but it depends on the help of the reader, interaction with 
his subjective world, to extend its insights beyond its immediate 
borders. Medieval literature was generally of this type, a type 
that survived the dominance of realism to re-emerge in symbolist 
forms since the end of the nineteenth century. At its lamest 
extremes, the symbolist style degenerates into simple-minded al- 
legory and the expression of visions so private as to hardly achieve 
communication at all. In the hands of its best practitioners in our 
day, however, it has shown a capacity for merging with, or encom- 
passing the naturalistic view. As we consciously learn to see the 
light with the dark, the subjective perspective allows for wisdom, 
love, and optimism. This is clearly the kind of style in which The 
Einstein Intersection is written. But literary modernism also in- 
fluences Stand on Zanzibar . which is not a pure and simple exercise 
of naturalism; Brunner, too, exhibits discontinuity, psychological 
perspective, and other characteristics of Auerbach's second type, 
as is obvious if his book is compared with most science fiction 
since Verne. Readers of science fiction are familiar primarily 
with certain simple literary conventions, including interpretation 
(if any is called for) by the author of what they should feel (if 
anything) as well as see. Neither of these two novels quite fits 
those standardized conventions; both authors assume the participa- 
tion of an intelligent, literate reader, working for his under- 
standing and collaborating in the creation of an illusion. This 
broadening of the function of the reader, a familiar phenomenon of 
modernist art, whose new ways of seeing Frye calls "improved bin- 
oculars," is something new to science fiction.^® And it is the 
literary "difficulty," more than the question of factual reality 
or scientific accuracy, which I think is at the heart of the con- 
troversy over the "New Wave." 

Those xdio have opposed the literariness of "New Wave" writings, 
and those who oppose science fiction's continued connections with 
popular or commercial fiction, are both fitting over empty abstrac- 
tions, in my estimation. An artist needs an audience, and just as 
the worst excesses of sloppy melodrama have driven aesthetically 
sensitive readers away from science fiction, so have the greatest 
achievements of literary modernism driven away many mature, in- 

92 



telligent people who haven’t the patience to learn the whole Western 
tradition, and methods of symbolic interpretation, before tackling 
Ulysses » Style as vision, archetypal psychology, political realism, 
all of these can complement rather than replace an awareness of 
science and technology and their social implications. If science 
fiction can benefit from these things \i^ien they are introduced by 
Heinlein and Sturgeon, can it not learn a little from Lawrence and 
Koestler, Dos Passes and Joyce? On the other hand, attention to 
simpler means of communication, aimed at a wide readership, does not 
have to require simple-minded over-abstraction and the acceptance of 
patent lies and stereotypes. In trying to comprehend the modern 
world and where it’s going and to communicate their vision to an in- 
ward-looking public, writers of science fiction need all the help 
they can get. We \dio think they’ve got something, who try to spread 
the word to other readers, would do much better to offer construc- 
tive criticism than to erect barriers in the guise of rigid defini- 
tions . 

In one commonly used sense of the term, a mythology is a closed 
system of beliefs, represented primarily by stories. But a mythol- 
ogy can also be ’’open," more abstract, and hypothetical, as Frye 
defines it in The Modern Century ; 

In every age there is a structure of ideas, images, beliefs, 
assumptions, anxieties, and hopes which express the view 
of man’s situation and destiny generally held at that time. 

I call this structure a mythology, and its units myths. A 
myth, in this sense, is an expression of man’s concern 
about himself, about his place in the scheme of things, 
about his relation to society and God, about the ultimate 
origin and ultimate fate, either of himself or of the 
human species generally. A mythology is thus a product 
of human concern, of our involvement with ourselves, and 
it always looks at the world from a man-centered point 
of view.^^ 

Science fiction, as Mark Hillegas points out, is just a part of 
this new mythology, but it’s a part that helps keep the mythology 
open, amenable to change and correction.^^ Every writer and reader 
of science fiction recognizes, every time he helps himself to an- 
other’s fantasies on ^ich to build his own, that on a microcosmic 
level, science fiction is itself an open mythology. But there is 
the tendency in any closed group--and confirmed readers of sf are 
still quite small in number--to close themselves off, to assume 
they know enough, whatever their theoretical commitment to change 
and the exploration of the unknown. 

Its adherents claim, among other things, that science fiction 
can throw light on the unknown, allow us to conduct experiments in 
our imaginations, help avert certain disasters by criticizing social 
excesses, achieve artistic integrity, and build bridges not only 
between the sciences and the humanities, but also between the intel- 
lectuals and the masses. If it is to do any justice at all to these 

93 



claims, sf must be kept open. There is room for both the new and 
the traditional, for both the hardest of sciences and the softest 
of fantasies, for both naturalism and symbolism, as literary modes, 
and for both the cream and the crop.^^ Science fiction may be the 
tip of the iceberg of man’s understanding (Frye's open mythology), 
the only vantage-point from which we're likely to see land or 
rescue at hand. If everyone tries to throw off everyone else, it 
may be that no one will survive. Meanwhile the ice is melting, 
and that's an awfully big ocean out there. 


Notes 

^While Ellison disdains the term "New Wave," once again in Again . 
Dangerous Visions (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972), he still 
waves around words and phrases like "revolutionary," "old- 
fashioned," and "new dreamers" without backing them up as 
far as I can see, 

■“Isaac Asimov, "When Aristotle Fails, Try Science Fiction," Intel - 
lectual Digest . 2 (December 1971), 75-77. 

Wst of the entries from the 1950' s and earlier in Thomas Clareson, 
Science Fiction Criticism : An Annotated Checklist (Kent State 
University Press, 1972), fit this description, as I discovered 
researching in 1961 for my B.A. thesis. 

This model, of an "ideal type" and its secretions on the way to 
becoming literature, is developed more fully in David Samuel- 
son, "Studies in the Contemporary American and British Science 
Fiction Novel" (dissertation. University of Southern Calif- 
ornia, 1969), chapter 2. 

Vor a concise history, see John Baxter, Science Fiction in the 
Cinema (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1970). 

John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968), 
and Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection (New York: 

Ace, 1967). Page references are to these editions, although 
an excerpt from Stand on Zanzibar appeared earlier. New Worlds 
(November 1971), and Ace made slight changes in a later and 
more expensive paperback edition of The Einstein Intersection . 

r 

Norman Spinrad, "Stand on Zanzibar ; The Novel as Film," SF; The 
Other Side of Realism , ed. Thomas D, Clareson (Bowling Green 
University Popular Press, 1971), pp, 181-185. 

See Northrop Frye, The Modern Century (Oxford University Press, 
1967), esp. pp. 30-37. See also Roderick Seidenberg, Post - 
Hj^storic Man ; An Inquiry (University of North Carolina Press, 
1950). 


94 


9 

As noted by Brunner himself, in ’*The Genesis of Stand on Zanzibar^ 
and Digressions into the Remainder of Its Pentateuch,** 
Extrapolation , 11 (May 1970), 34-43. 


10 ., 


II 


12 


Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener, The Year 2000 ; A Framework for 
Speculation on the Next Thirty - Three Years (New York: MacMillan 
1967); Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Random House, 
1970); Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb , rev. ed. (New York: 
Ballantine, 1971); Donella H. Meadows, ^t. ^1, Limits to Growth 
A Report for the Club of Rome * s Project on the Predicament of 
Mankind (Washington; Potomac Associates, 1972). 

For this delineation of **consciousness** types, see Charles Reich, 
The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970). 

See Herbert Marcuse, One - Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon, 1964). 


13 


14 


15 


16 


17 


18 


Spinrad, in S^: The Other Side , p. 184. 

See remarks on humor ^ Heinlein in William Atheling, Jr. [ James 
Blish], The Issue at Hand (Chicago: Advent, 1964), pp. 64-65 
(footnote) . 

Samuel R. Delany, **About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy- 
Five Words,** in The Other Side , p. 142. 

Isaac Asimov, **Social Science Fiction,** in Modern Science Fiction : 
Its Meaning and Its Future , ed. Reginald Bretnor (New York: 
Coward McCann, 1953), p. 178. 

Kurt GHdel, **0n Formally Undecidable Propositions of the Principia 
Mathematica and Related Systems** (1931), tr. Elliot Mendelson, 
in The Undecidable : Basic Papers on Undecidable Propositions . 
Unsolvable Problems and Computable Functions . ed. Martin Davie 
(Hewlett, New York: Raven Press, 1965). According to John von 
Neumann, **G8del was the first man to demonstrate that certain 
mathematical theorems can neither be proved nor disproved with 
the accepted rigorous methods of mathematics. . . .GUdel actu- 
ally proved this theorem, not with respect to mathematics only, 
but for all systems ^ich permit a formalization, that is a 
rigorous and exhaustive description, in terms of modern logic: 
For no such system can its freedom from inner contradiction be 
demonstrated with the means of the system itself,** from **Trib- 
ute to Dr. G8del,** pp. ix-x,in Foundations of Mathematics ; 
Symposium Papers Coromemorat ing the Sixtieth Birthday of Kurt 
GUdel . ed. Jack J, Buloff, Thomas C, Holyoke, S. W, Hahn 
(New York: Springer, 1969). 

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (New York: 

Meridian, 1958), esp. **The Hero Today,** pp. 387-391. Camp- 
bell's comparative mythology is exercised at greater length 
in The Masks of God (New York: Viking, 1959-1969), 4v. 

95 



^^Delany, in The Other Side , p. 130. 

20 

Mario Montez is a fairly well-known transvestite in the New York 
underground, but I cannot locate any written reference to this 
name in materials ready at hand, 

21 

Cf. the discussion of a similar talent in the fairy tale in Paul 
von Rubow, ”Idea and Form in H. C, Andersen's Fairy Tales," 
in A Book on the Danish Writer , Hans Christian Andersen , His 
Life and Work , ed. Sven Dahl, tr. W. Glyn Jones (Copenhagen: 
Det Berlingske Bogtykkeri, 1955), esp, pp. 128-135, 

22 

These charges have been levelled by students in my class, "SF: 
Science Fiction and Speculative Fantasy," and I have heard 
them elsewhere, but I cannot document them at this time. 

23 

See extended definitions in Samuelson, pp, 78-79, 

24 

Scientism, simply put, may be taken to mean the belief that 
nothing can be known except by means of such "scientific" 
principles as determinism, empiricism, and relativism, 
assumed for the sake of experimental prediction and control. 
See Samuelson, pp, 45-48; F, A, Hayek, The Counter - Revolution 
of Science (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1952); and 
Helmut Schoeck and James W, Wiggins, eds,. Scientism and 
Values (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1960), 

25 

See Bernice T, Eiduson, Scientists : Their Psychological World 
(New York: Basic Books, 1962); I, J. Good, ed,, The Scientist 
Speculates ; An Anthology of Partly - Baked Ideas (New York: 
Capricorn, 1962); Sergei Gouschev and Mikhail Vassiliev, eds,/ 
trs,, Russian Science in the Twenty - First Century (New York: 
McGraw-Hill, 1960), 


nfi 

^Erich Auerbach, Mimesis : The Representation of Reality in Western 
Literature , Tr. Willard Trask (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 
1953), p. 19, 

27 

Frye, The Modern Century , pp. 61-63, 

OQ 

°Frye, pp, 50-86. 

^^Frye, pp . 105-106 , 

30 

Mark R, Hillegas, "Science Fiction as a Cultural Phenomenon: A 
Re-evaluation," in SF : The Other Side , p, 273. 

31 

Clifford D. Simak, "There's Room Enough for All of Us," Extrapo - 
lation . 13 (May, 1972) 1, 102-105, 

California State University-Long Beach 
Long Beach, California 90840 

96